A new sleep app for people with insomnia is being recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as an alternative to sleeping pills.

The Sleepio app uses an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to provide people with tailored digital cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) across a six-week period.

The user is encouraged to do a sleep test, participate in weekly interactive CBT-I sessions and keep a diary about their sleeping patterns.

In this way, they are encouraged to focus on identifying thoughts, feelings and behaviours that contribute to the symptoms of insomnia.

Some sleep drugs can be dependency forming

Cognitive interventions aim to improve the way a person thinks about sleep and the behavioural interventions aim to promote a healthy sleep routine.

This method, NICE say, has the potential to reduce prescriptions of medicines such as zolpidem and zopiclone which can be dependency forming. This could also help to save the NHS money.

Indeed, economic analysis found that healthcare costs were lower at one year when using Sleepio (which costs £45 per person), mostly because of fewer GP appointments and sleeping pills prescribed.

Using Sleepio reduces GP appointments and cuts the number of prescriptions for sleeping pills

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.

“Our rigorous, transparent and evidence-based analysis has found that Sleepio is cost saving for the NHS compared with usual treatments in primary care. It will also reduce people with insomnia’s reliance on dependence forming drugs such as zolpidem and zopiclone.

“This is a good example of where a digital health technology can help the NHS. The evidence has shown using Sleepio reduces the number of GP appointments people with insomnia need and will also cut the number of prescriptions for sleeping pills delivered by pharmacists.”