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1 February 2005 PR 05/09

Drug-free alternatives for insomnia treatment

Loughborough University scientists are hoping to increase the use of drug-free techniques to treat thousands of insomnia sufferers.

The project is being led by Professor Kevin Morgan, who is based in the University’s Department of Human Sciences. Its main aim is to develop and increase the availability of psychological treatments for insomnia by training existing NHS primary care staff to be able to offer such support to patients. Psychological treatments include educating sufferers on how to change their behaviour and control their thoughts in order to promote better sleeping patterns, and offering training in relaxation techniques.

It is hoped the increased use of psychological treatments will not only meet the needs of insomnia patients but also help reduce the high levels of prescription medication, largely benzodiazepines, given to treat the condition.

In England over the last two decades there have been between 10 and 11 million prescriptions for sleeping drugs each year, reflecting a clear demand for insomnia management among NHS patients. Despite widespread clinical and public concern about the long-term use of these drugs, few practical alternatives have been developed or offered to GPs and sufferers.

Research already shows that psychological treatments for insomnia are both safe and very effective but still such approaches remain under-developed and practitioners with experience in this specialised area are scarce. The principle remaining barrier to the wider deployment of these treatments in primary care is training.

This new initiative is hoping to remove this barrier by giving existing NHS primary care staff the training they need to be able to offer such treatments within their routine clinical service. It will also provide post-training support to develop the skills of these practitioners as ‘instructors’ who can then pass on their skills to others. Clinical supervision, available for six months after training, will help to ensure that the new skills become embedded in routine practice.

This unique training partnership will deliver skills which contribute directly to a number of primary care priorities, including medication management and mental health promotion. It is aimed at all suitably qualified primary care personnel who may encounter patients with serious sleep problems. Some of the first people to join the programme include practice nurses, health visitors, graduate mental health workers, primary care counsellors and psychologists. They make regular visits to the Loughborough University campus where they are given the necessary training.

Professor Morgan said: “Insomnia is the most frequently reported psychological symptom in Britain, and a major demand on NHS resources. The wider availability of effective ‘talking therapies’ for this complaint provides the best possible deal for both patients and GPs.”

The project is being funded by the National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE) and the NHS University (NHSU).

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Notes to editors
Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place Loughborough in the top flight of UK universities, and industry highlights Loughborough in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 45% of the University’s income is for research. The University has been awarded four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; and for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development.

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