Findings of a new study conducted in the UK suggest that treating insomnia with online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could in turn help treat mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and paranoia.
This study, carried out by researchers at the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, University of Oxford, aimed at improving sleep in a group of university students with insomnia to look at sleep’s effect on paranoia (excessive mistrust), anxiety, and depression.
The study that was performed on 3,755 participants is considered to be the largest ever randomized controlled trial of a psychological treatment for mental health and the first study of its kind, large enough to determine the effects of treating insomnia on psychotic experiences.
The participants were randomly divided into two groups, one of the groups received online CBT for insomnia while the other group received access to standard treatments.
The six sessions of CBT, that half of the participants received, included behavioral, cognitive and educational components, such as learning to associate bed with sleep, encouraging people to put time aside to reflect on their day before going to bed, and facilitating a pro-sleep environment.
The programme was interactive and used information from the participants’ sleep diaries to personalize the advice.
To monitor the participants’ mental health, they were given online questionnaires at 0, 3, 10 and 22 weeks from the start of the treatment.
When the team analyzed the results at the end of the study, they found out that the participants who received CBT sleep treatment showed larger reductions in insomnia, as well as small, sustained reductions in paranoia and hallucinatory experiences.
The team also found out that, the CBT treatment helped improve other mental health problems including depression, anxiety, nightmares, and psychological well-being, as well as daytime work and home functioning.
Talking about the research, the lead author, Daniel Freeman, said, “Sleep problems are very common in people with mental health disorders, but for too long insomnia have been trivialized as merely a symptom, rather than a cause, of psychological difficulties. This study turns that old idea on its head, showing that insomnia may actually be a contributory cause of mental health problems.”
“A good night’s sleep really can make a difference to people’s psychological health. Helping people get better sleep could be an important first step in tackling many psychological and emotional problems,” he concluded.
The study has been published online in the The Lancet Psychiatry.
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