Helping GPs manage insomnia

Flinders University researchers will develop a world-first pathway to help GPs treat insomnia, in the hope of reducing reliance on sleeping pills.

With the help of a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant, Dr Alexander Sweetman will develop the pathway within the doctors’ central software program, to help GPs identify and refer patients to a specialised digital cognitive behavioural therapy program for insomnia.

Cognitive behavioural therapy works by targeting the underlying psychological, physiological and behavioural causes of insomnia, as opposed to medications which only mask the surfacing symptom temporarily.

“It has been difficult to administer cognitive behavioural therapy in general practice because session-based programs are too time consuming, costly and inconvenient for overburdened GPs and patients,” Dr Sweetman explains

“Consequently, 90 per cent of insomnia patients managed by Australian GPs are prescribed sedative-hypnotic medications (sleeping pills).”

However, face-to-face cognitive behavioural therapy programs have recently been translated into an effective self-administered digital program called Sleepio, which has been shown to improve sleep and reduce the need for sleeping pills.

“This is potentially ideal for use in general practice both as ‘first-line' insomnia treatment and also to help patients withdraw from sleeping pill medications,” Dr Sweetman says.

“The continued widespread reliance in Australia on sleeping pills is exposing many thousands of patients each day to harmful and largely ineffective treatments, when effective and safe cognitive behavioural therapy exists.”

It is estimated that chronic insomnia occurs in over 2.5 million Australian adults.

“This project will directly improve the sleep, health, and quality of life of individuals participating in the study and contribute to gradually changing the way that insomnia is managed in general practice throughout Australia,” Dr Sweetman says.


Research category: Sleep Health

Project title: A novel software-assisted pathway to manage insomnia in Australian general practice.

Lead researcher: Dr Alexander Sweetman

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