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Researchers from the University of Oxford have found that a brief form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for insomnia, delivered by nurses in GP surgeries, significantly improves sleep and quality of life compared to sleep hygiene alone.

Person sleeping with alarm clock

Insomnia, a widespread condition, negatively affects quality of life and leads to substantial costs for society. Impacting around 10% of adults, insomnia also heightens the risk of developing other conditions, including psychiatric disorders, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Despite its high prevalence and burden, access to the recommended treatment – CBT – is extremely limited.  

The HABIT trial, published today in The Lancet, involved 642 adults with insomnia recruited from 35 GP surgeries across England. The participants were split into two groups and randomly assigned to receive either four sessions of brief nurse-delivered sleep restriction therapy (along with a sleep hygiene booklet), or sleep hygiene booklet on its own (the control condition).   

Sleep restriction therapy, or SRT, involves a nurse reviewing the patient’s sleep-wake pattern and supporting them to implement a new personalised sleep schedule over several weeks. The new sleep-wake pattern leads to an initial reduction in time spent in bed, to consolidate sleep – making it deeper and more efficient. The treatment advises against daytime napping, and establishes a regular bed and rise-time each night to improve the consistency of sleep. These behavioural changes to the sleep schedule are thought to act on biological mechanisms that regulate the sleep-wake cycle.  

The sleep hygiene booklet provided behavioural recommendations on how to improve sleep, for example by making changes to one’s lifestyle or sleep environment.   

Read the full story on the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences website