Web-based therapy, SHUTi, shows promise for insomnia (USA Today)

July 7, 2009 by sa4fa@virginia.edu

Sleepless people sometimes use the Internet to get through the night. Now a small study shows promising results for insomniacs with nine weeks of Internet-based therapy.

No human therapist is involved. The Internet software gives advice, even specific bedtimes, based on users’ sleep diaries. Patients learn better sleep habits — like avoiding daytime naps — through stories, quizzes and games.

“This is a very interactive, tailored, personalized program,” said study co-author Frances Thorndike of the University of Virginia Health System, who helped design the software, called Sleep Healthy Using the Internet, or SHUTi.

Such software could one day be a low-cost alternative for some patients, Thorndike said. And it could be the only non-drug option for people who live in areas without trained specialists, she said.

Prior research has shown face-to-face cognitive behavioral therapy can have long-lasting results for insomniacs without the side effects of medication. The SHUTi program is based on that style of therapy, which helps patients change thinking patterns that contribute to poor sleep.

In the new study, released Monday in Archives of General Psychiatry, the researchers recruited 45 adults with moderate insomnia and randomly assigned 22 of them to try the Internet program.