Virtual sleep coach effective against insomnia

November 25, 2016, Delft University of Technology
Credit: Delft University of Technology

The interactive app developed by TU Delft, Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam to help people with chronic insomnia to learn a better sleep rhythm has been shown to work. The use of this virtual coach reduces sleeping problems, argues doctoral candidate Corine Horsch. She will obtain her doctorate from TU Delft on 23 November for her research on this subject.

Around 10% of the Dutch population suffers from chronic insomnia. The conventional treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy, which includes sleep restriction and relaxation exercises. But access to this therapy is limited because there are too few sleep therapists to treat the large number of people who have problems sleeping. Patients also struggle to persevere with the therapy because they find it difficult to keep to the prescribed sleep times. Researchers at TU Delft, Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam investigated whether the virtual sleep coach 'SleepCare' that they developed – a smart phone app for poor sleepers – is an effective solution.

Virtual coaching

Persistent insomnia can have a negative impact on health and quality of life. 'That is why we wanted to gain a better understanding of personalised self-help therapy for sleep problems and the effect of virtual coaching on long-term behavioural change', says Corine Horsch.

The scientists examined the effectiveness of the app in a controlled study. For this study, 151 people with were divided into two groups. Of these, 74 were given access to the 'SleepCare' app over a six-week period and 77 were first placed on a waiting list. A clear reduction in sleeping problems was seen among the participants who used the app; people fell asleep more quickly and woke less frequently. These effects were still visible three months later.

Daily life

The 'SleepCare' is based on the existing for insomnia usually given by psychologists. 'The app does more than just record sleeping patterns; users also practised , relaxation exercises and hygiene - all tailored to the user's daily life pattern', explains Horsch.

Reminders

A previous joint study had already demonstrated the expected positive relationship between therapy compliance and the effectiveness of therapy. Horsch recently discovered that an app with a computer-generated reminder can improve therapy compliance. Horsch believes that this finding will be important for the development of future effective innovations in the field of e-health. She emphasises the importance of a combination of behavioural sciences and technology research in this field. 'If you expect people to start using new technologies, you need to continue to conduct research into how they deal with this new technology'.

Follow-up

Horsch's work has revealed new insights that are set to prove useful to designers and developers of e-health and other apps in the future. For example, the gulf between people's own levels of perseverance and the timing and content of reminders would appear to play a key role in whether or not to use an app. Horsch believes that the subject of therapy compliance requires more detailed research.

The app is currently only available for the research group with Android phones. The researchers hope that the app will be available on the market in the future.

Explore further: Cognitive behavioral therapy effective for older people with insomnia

Related Stories

Cognitive behavioral therapy effective for older people with insomnia

October 28, 2016
Insomnia is the most common sleep problem in adults—as many as 30 percent to 50 percent of people report having trouble sleeping. For older adults, insomnia can often be chronic and is linked to other serious health conditions. ...

Sleep is key to curing chronic pain

September 21, 2016
Research from the University of Warwick reveals that the way chronic pain patients think about pain and sleep leads to insomnia and poor management of pain.

Cognitive behavior therapy could be key for children with autism getting enough sleep

August 31, 2016
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term form of therapy that focuses on changing how a person thinks about and reacts to specific situations. Used by therapists for decades, it has been proven effective for treating ...

Power naps for insomniacs

January 23, 2015
Daytime naps may hold the key to treating insomnia, Flinders University researchers believe.

Forget counting sheep—Therapy could help chronic pain sufferers get a good night's sleep

October 31, 2015
Research conducted at the University of Warwick indicates that chronic pain sufferers could benefit from therapy to help them sleep better.

73 percent of insomniacs cured after 1-hour therapy session

June 2, 2015
A simple one-hour therapy session has helped to cure 73% of people suffering from acute insomnia, according to a new study from Northumbria University released today.

Recommended for you

Introduction of alcohol found to adversely impact fertility rates in hunter-gatherer community

June 19, 2018
Fernando Ramirez Rozzi, a research director with the French National Centre for Scientific Research has found that the introduction of alcohol to a Baka pygmy hunter-gatherer society caused fertility rates to fall. In his ...

Risks of cancer and mortality by average lifetime alcohol intake

June 19, 2018
The risk of mortality, and of developing a number of cancers, is lowest in light drinkers consuming an average of less than one drink per day across their lifetime, and the risk of some cancers increases with each additional ...

Bad habits that lead to cancer, chronic disease corrected by simple lifestyle intervention

June 19, 2018
Does this sound like someone you know? He or she spends too much time in front of screens, gets little exercise and eats a diet high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables.

Graphic warning labels linked to reduced sugary drink purchases

June 18, 2018
Warning labels that include photos linking sugary drink consumption with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay, may reduce purchases of the drinks, according to a new study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School ...

Greater levels of vitamin D associated with decreasing risk of breast cancer

June 15, 2018
Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine suggest higher levels of vitamin D are associated with decreasing risk of breast cancer. Their epidemiological study is published in the June 15 online ...

Lentils significantly reduce blood glucose levels, study reveals

June 13, 2018
Replacing potatoes or rice with pulses can lower your blood glucose levels by more than 20 per cent, according to a first-ever University of Guelph study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.