The end of sleeping pills? Doctors to recommend this sleep app for insomnia

A woman lies in bed, unable to sleep due to insomnia
(Image credit: Getty)

Insomnia is one of the most common and debilitating sleep issues in the world, and as of today hundreds of thousands of people who struggle to sleep at night will be offered a new form of treatment via sleep app Sleepio. 

Following guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Sleepio is to be recommended as an alternative to some forms of sleep hygiene and sleeping pills. 

According to the NICE press release: 'Clinical evidence presented to NICE’s medical technologies advisory committee from 12 randomised controlled trials showed that Sleepio is more effective at reducing insomnia than sleep hygiene and sleeping pills.'

According to NICE, up to 800,000 people with insomnia in England alone could benefit from using Sleepio

Sleepio, which normally costs £45, is a six-week online program based on cognitive and behavioural techniques. It can be accessed via web browser or app (iOS / Android) and uses an AI algorithm to provide users with custom CBT-I (cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia) to treat their sleeplessness and thoughts around sleep.

Jeanette Kusel, acting director for MedTech and digital at NICE, said: “Until now people with insomnia have been offered sleeping pills and taught about sleep hygiene, so our committee’s recommendation of Sleepio provides GPs and their patients with a new treatment option.

“It will also reduce people with insomnia’s reliance on dependence forming drugs such as zolpidem and zopiclone."

Dr Sophie Bostock, The Sleep Scientist who spent five years working at Sleepio, tells Tom's Guide: "Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia has been the recommended first line treatment for insomnia in clinical guidelines for years, but few people have been able to access it. 

"Sleepio has been proven to be safe and effective in the long term in randomised controlled trials in thousands of people. It has been accessible to patients across London and Thames Valley for years, but this announcement ends the postcode lottery. I'm delighted."

A man sits on the edge of his bed because he can't sleep due to insomnia

(Image credit: Getty)

What is CBT-I and how does it treat insomnia?

CBT-I will be new to a lot of people, so we asked Dr Lindsay Browning, a published author and renowned sleep psychologist at Trouble Sleeping, to explain this form of insomnia treatment and why it works. 

According to Dr Browning, “CBT-I is the recommended treatment for insomnia because it works by helping people to fix unhelpful behaviours which make their sleeping problem worse, and by improving negative thoughts and anxiety about not sleeping. 

“It is an incredibly effective treatment, often more effective than sleeping pills and the results are sustainable over a long period.”

CBT-I is usually carried out one-to-one with a trained sleep therapist such as Dr Browning, but Sleepio will open up this treatment to more people struggling with insomnia. In this scenario, you’d be guided through the process via the app and accompanying videos created by Sleepio's sleep experts.

Illustration shows the home page of insomnia treatment app Sleepio

(Image credit: Sleepio)

Sleepio was developed to improve poor sleep and insomnia in adults aged 18 years and older. It involves a six-week program comprising a sleep test, weekly custom CBT-I sessions, and a sleep diary that users need to keep throughout the course to track their progress. This can be done manually or via a compatible fitness tracker.

According to Dr Browning, “Sleepio is an online (app) version of CBT-I, which is now available through the NHS as it has been shown to be highly effective at treating insomnia for many people.”

“It enables CBT-I therapy to be given to the masses, rather than relying on sleeping pills or individual therapy which may involve a wait-list and be more expensive, which is fantastic.”

What is insomnia?

The NHS defines insomnia as follows: 'Insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. It usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.' This is easier said than done for some, which is why a great sleep expert or a guided course of CBT-I can be highly effective.

The sessions vary in terms of content, but mostly focus on thoughts, feelings and behaviours that could contribute to insomnia symptoms. The aim is to improve how a person feels and thinks about sleep and to get them back into a healthy sleep routine.

Even though the course takes six weeks to complete, users will have access to it for a full year to go back over any techniques, tips and videos.

Sleepio can be accessed via your web browser and through iOS and Android devices. If you are struggling with insomnia, speak with your doctor to see what help, such as Sleepio, is appropriate for you.

Making your bedroom a calm and inviting place for sleep is also important, so make sure you are sleeping on the best mattress for your body type, and a comfy pillow too. Keeping your room cool, quiet and dark also helps and you can learn more about this in our feature on how to optimise your bedroom for better sleep.

Claire Davies
Senior Sleep Editor, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Claire Davies is Tom's Guide's mattress expert and main sleep product tester with over 15 years' product review experience, and she is responsible for all mattress and sleep coverage on the site. A qualified journalist, Sleep Editor and Certified Sleep Science Coach, Claire writes about all things related to sleep, from mattress reviews to the latest sleep techniques and research. Claire has interviewed a wealth of experts, from mattress designers and innovators to neuroscientists and doctors of sleep medicine. Before taking on the role of Sleep Editor, Claire worked as Health & Wellness Editor at Top Ten Reviews, and before that was a Senior Content Editor at T3. Claire is super-passionate about how consistent, good quality sleep can boost our physical and mental wellbeing, and would love to hear from PRs and brands regarding sleep products, services and research that can help our readers sleep better than ever.