If you've ever had problems falling asleep at night, I'm willing to bet you've heard the same advice again and again: Avoid screen time from your computer or phone while you're trying to go to bed. Interestingly, though, new research suggests that actually, the internet can help you with insomnia — as long as you're using it in a specific way. It's not just any sort of internet usage that's now been proven to do the trick to help people get better rest at night; instead, as Lisa Ryan explains at Science of Us, a recent study which appears in JAMA Psychology shows that people who use online sleep therapy programs can help restore their regular sleep patterns.
To be fair, not every aspect of this finding is surprising. As Ryan explains, the traditional treatment for sleep issues is through cognitive behavioral therapy, where mental health professionals work with patients to identify problems and find solutions through changing or adjusting behaviors. As researchers from the University of Virginia discovered, this same approach works well even through an online module.
For this experiment, UVA researchers gathered 303 participants between the ages of 21 to 65. Half of the study participants took part in six weeks of online sleep therapy while the other half received general advice on education about insomnia, AKA the "placebo" treatment. And the results are pretty impressive.
After a year of use, a whopping 57 percent of users were back to a normal sleep schedule, which is a feat in and of itself. Meanwhile, only 27 percent of people using the "placebo" treatment program returned to a normal sleep schedule within a year. That's a huge difference!
So, what did this sleep program entail, and how can you access it? Luckily, it appears you have some options if you're interested in how the internet can help you sleep. For this study, researchers used a program called SHUTi which relies on traditional cognitive behavioral models.
As Benedict Carey at the New York Times explains, these methods often involve using sleep restriction in order to determine a "sleep window" (that is, a regular sleep schedule) as well as stimulus control, such as limiting how often you watch TV in bed. Reframing your thoughts and feelings towards sleep to make them more positive also helps, as does logging your sleep times and sleep windows to look for patterns.
So, will this program work for you? It's hard to say without trial and error, but if you're someone who suffers from insomnia, it might not be a bad idea to look into. For example, SHUTi lasts for six weeks. Once a week, you spend about 40 minutes completing a learning and strategy session online, and each day, you spend two to three minutes to maintain an online sleep diary. You also practice new strategies and techniques as you move along. For reference, SHUTi retails for about $135 to begin the process, though there are also plenty of other online sleep therapies available so you can compare and see what works best for you. And if you can't pay for a treatment, it might be good to look into what low-cost or free therapies are available that could help you work on some cognitive behavioral skills that may help with your insomnia, even if it's not online.
Whatever the case, if you're struggling to get enough rest, take it seriously and do what you can to get help. Sleep is not optional, and missing out on it can have serious impacts on your health.