In view of the high co-occurrence of depression and insomnia, a novel way to reduce the risk of escalating depression might be to offer an insomnia intervention. We aimed to assess whether an online self-help insomnia program could reduce depression symptoms.
We did this randomised controlled trial at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. Internet users (aged 18–64 years) with insomnia and depression symptoms, but who did not meet criteria for major depressive disorder, were randomly assigned (1:1), via computer-generated randomisation, to receive SHUTi, a 6 week, modular, online insomnia program based on cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia, or HealthWatch, an interactive, attention-matched, internet-based placebo control program. Randomisation was stratified by age and sex. Telephone-based interviewers, statisticians, and chief investigators were masked to group allocation. The primary outcome was depression symptoms at 6 months, as measured with the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). The primary analysis was by intention to treat. This trial is registered with the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, number ACTRN12611000121965.
Between April 30, 2013, and June 9, 2014, we randomly assigned 1149 participants to receive SHUTi (n=574) or HealthWatch (n=575), of whom 581 (51%) participants completed the study program assessments at 6 weeks and 504 (44%) participants completed 6 months’ follow-up. SHUTi significantly lowered depression symptoms on the PHQ-9 at 6 weeks and 6 months compared with HealthWatch (F[degrees of freedom 2,640·1]=37·2, p<0·0001). Major depressive disorder was diagnosed in 22 (4%) participants at 6 months (n=9 in the SHUTi group and n=13 in the HealthWatch group), with no superior effect of SHUTi versus HealthWatch (Fisher’s exact test=0·52; p=0·32). No adverse events were reported.
Online cognitive behaviour therapy for insomnia treatment is a practical and effective way to reduce depression symptoms and could be capable of reducing depression at the population level by use of a fully automatised system with the potential for wide dissemination.