Sleepio, a digital sleep-improvement program developed by UK startup Big Health helps you beat insomnia and sleep deprivation with cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

Big Health, a UK startup which describes itself as a digital behavior medicine company, promises to help you get better sleep and beat insomnia. Its first product, an app called Sleepio, is a digital sleep-improvement program that uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to cure sleep disorders.

The NHS-approved app uses proven CBT techniques developed by Colin Espie, a professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford, and Peter Hames, an ex-insomnia sufferer and co-founder of Big Health.

How Does Sleepio Work?

When the app is run for the first time, it takes the user through an in-depth initial sleep test to understand the underlying causes preventing the user from getting a good night’s sleep. The user then has to manually enter the details about his or her sleep experience every morning or can import the data from other apps such as Jawbone UP, Fitbit or Bodymedia.

The app uses the information gathered from the questionnaire and daily sleep diary to create a personalized program. A virtual sleep expert called The Prof then guides the user through six different interactive sessions, one session a week. The Prof will also send email reminders if a session is missed or details aren’t logged about the previous night’s sleep.

This animated character offers CBT techniques and tips—such as “Thought Checker” and “Daily Schedule”—to manage your sleep timings, thoughts, bedroom ambience and lifestyle habits to get better sleep. The app also offers many online tools, videos, quizzes, expert articles and an online community where a user can share his or her experience with fellow insomniacs.

Professor Colin Espie Introduces Sleepio from Sleepio on Vimeo.

Does It Actually Work?

Thankfully, there is evidence that it does. Unlike many health and wellness apps which don’t go beyond accumulating and quantifying the health data, Sleepio uses the data to offer clinically-proven CBT techniques that actually motivate the user to change his or her behavioral patterns resulting in tangible health outcomes.

The Sleepio program has been put to the test, in what has been dubbed as the world’s first randomized, placebo-controlled trial of a digital sleep intervention. The results, which were published in the peer-reviewed journal SLEEP, indicate that CBT techniques delivered via a media-rich web application with automated support and a community forum is effective in improving the sleep and associated daytime functioning of adults with chronic insomnia disorder.

A total of 164 participants were randomly split into three groups with the first group receiving the Sleepio program, the second receiving a placebo treatment, and the last group receiving no additional treatment—to act as a control group.

At the end of the study, the Sleepio group improved their sleep efficiency (proportion of time in bed actually spent sleeping) by 19.5%, significantly better than the improvements posted by the placebo group (5.70%) and the control group (6.37%).

Overall, Sleepio helps people fall asleep 50% faster, reduces night time awakenings by up to 60% and boosts daytime energy levels up to 58%. 

“The guiding principle when developing the programme was that every technique taught should be evidence-based. There is a world of untested and unproven treatments available on the Internet and, besides sleeping pills, there has been little else for people to turn to,” says Prof. Colin Espie.

“One of the benefits of Sleepio is that you are taught a wide range of techniques, each of which can be tailored to your personal situation – whether this includes a partner, or children for example. Each user is encouraged to implement the techniques as best they can, supported by the online community, which is almost certain to include other people in a similar situation,” he adds.

The user-friendly app integrates with Apple’s HealthKit in iOS8 and can be downloaded for free. Users get unlimited access to The Prof for seven days, after which they need to purchase a subscription for ongoing services.