An online program used to treat insomnia can also significantly reduce anxiety and depression with improvements persisting for at least six months, new research shows.
Black Dog Institute researchers, in partnership with the Australian National University, University of Sydney, and the University of Virginia trialled an online insomnia program to see if it could reduce depression symptoms in adults and prevent escalation into major depression.
Called SHUTi™ or Sleep Healthy Using the Internet, the six week intervention combines traditional sleep hygiene tips – such as an uncluttered bed and minimising alcohol and television – with cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to address the psychological underpinnings of the problem.
The program was delivered online to over 500 Australians with a further 500 Australians allocated to another online program containing information about general health.
Results, published in the prestigious journal Lancet Psychiatry, found the SHUTi treatment group experienced significantly reduced insomnia, anxiety and depression, with these improvements persisting for at least six months.
Insomnia is closely associated with many mental illnesses, both as a symptom and a potential trigger. It co-occurs most commonly in major depression with around 80% of people diagnosed with depression experiencing insomnia. Around 40% of those suffering insomnia may also have undiagnosed yet clinically significant depressive symptoms.
UNSW Scientia Professor of Mental Health and Black Dog Institute Director, Helen Christensen, said there are two important conclusions to take from the results.
“This is the first trial in the world to demonstrate that CBT-based insomnia treatment can also have a significant impact on the development of depression,” Professor Christensen said.
“Since insomnia treatment is rarely stigmatised, this will remove a significant hurdle for those people who feel uncomfortable seeking help. It is also of significant importance for young people, who may not be able to specifically identify depression symptoms but are aware of their insomnia.
“Secondly, the success of the SHUTi program has significant implications for the clinical delivery of mental health interventions.
“This program had the results compared to face to face treatment but was delivered by automated software, giving us a cost-effective way for us to quickly distribute quality treatment and prevention programs across large geographic areas and to a wide range of users.“