Insomniacs 'should be given therapy not sleeping pills'

NHS told to roll out cognitive behavioural treatment after success of research projects

Tens of thousands of insomniacs could be helped to sleep better every year if NHS staff were trained to provide safe psychological therapies, according to a leading specialist in the field.

One in four Britons suffers from poor sleep and one in 10 has a sleep disorder, but the vast majority suffer in silence or turn to potentially harmful drug treatments.

Sleep problems can exist in isolation, but are more common in people with mental health problems and chronic physical conditions such as heart disease, dementia and Parkinson's disease.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is increasingly used to treat people with depression and anxiety, is also clinically proven to help insomniacs to sleep better.

But while CBT has been rolled out across England to treat those with mental health problems by training 3,500 practitioners based in GP surgeries, it is rarely available to insomniacs. Kevin Morgan, a professor of gerontology at the University of Loughborough, has been researching the condition for the past 20 years.

He says at least £3m of taxpayers' money has been spent on research into CBT and insomnia, with little to show for it in access to treatment. Instead, tens of millions of pounds are spent on over-the-counter and prescription sleeping tablets, which work only in the short term, can lead to addictions and cause accidents and falls.

Last year, more than 12 million prescriptions for sleeping tablets were dispensed across England, Scotland and Wales. "The evidence is undisputable, we have a workforce and we have training programmes that work, yet access to treatment for patients is very patchy. Insomnia has never really been on the Department of Health's radar and there is no central drive to improve access," Professor Morgan told The Independent.

Current practitioners need training in order to correctly adapt the CBT for insomnia. This includes understanding the two processes that can be manipulated to improve a person's sleep: learnt behaviours such as spending too long in bed awake trying to get to sleep, and the over-thinking that goes on before sleep.

Professor Morgan and his team have trained some health workers in the East Midlands and Oxfordshire, but with no national guidelines, the roll-out has been patchy. "It is not the ideal health service response to a chronic disabling problem; it needs central coordination," he said.

The latest research examined the effectiveness of self-help CBT for 55 insomniacs with long-term physical health problems.

Patients were sent booklets explaining how sleep works and how to gain control over it, and were provided with telephone support.

"Subjectively, people reported better sleep, a decrease in insomnia symptoms and in some cases less reliance on medication. It is still better to see a therapist but in their absence, the self-help training programme is an effective alternative," he said.

The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, will be published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society later this year.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent