Insomnia affects one-in-three Australians, with 50% of the population experiencing one symptom of insomnia at least once in their life. It has an estimated societal cost of $11 billion annually

The current best practice treatment for people with significant insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) delivered by a psychologist.  But a shortage of psychologists and undertreatment by general practitioners mean that effective treatments are not being delivered to the people who need them most.

“Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, but many people don’t realise that treatment is available,” said University of Sydney Associate Professor Christopher Gordon.

“Research shows that 90% of insomnia presentations to general practice result in at least one prescription of sleeping pills,” he said. “While that can improve sleep in the short term, that doesn’t address the underlying causes of insomnia, and can result in problems with sleeping pill dependency and associated issues like falls.”

Associate Professor Gordon has spent the past two years developing and testing SleepFix, a mobile app that uses therapy techniques to treat insomnia – and it’s working.

“The app delivers sleep therapy to patients with insomnia, gradually training them to spend more time in bed asleep, than in bed awake.

“There have been two systematic reviews comparing face-to-face and digital therapies, and clinically the outcomes are almost identical,” he said. “Patient drop-off is also very similar between the two,” he said.

Now, supported by an SHP grant, he’s working with GPs, pharmacists and nurses in primary care to help bring the app into their routine clinical care.

“We’re seeing if primary care clinicians can deliver the app and investigating whether it’s something that they’d take into their arsenal of therapy options into the future,” he said.

“Our belief is that if a trusted health professional tells a patient to use the app, they will be more likely to have a go with it and stick to it, compared to other health professionals or a self-help type approach.”