An online behavioral self-help intervention rapidly improves acute insomnia severity and subjective mood during the coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic: a stratified randomized controlled trial

Greg Elder*, Nayantara Santhi, Amelia Robson, Pam Alfonso-Miller, Kai Spiegelhalder, Jason Ellis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


Study Objectives: Stressful life events, such as the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, can cause acute insomnia. Cognitive behavioral therapy for acute insomnia is effective but is both time and resource-intensive. This study investigated if an online behavioral self-help intervention, which has been successfully used alongside sleep restriction for acute insomnia, reduced insomnia severity and improved mood in acute insomnia. This study also assessed good sleepers to explore if a "sleep vaccination"approach was feasible.

Methods: In this online stratified randomized controlled trial, 344 participants (103 good sleepers and 241 participants with DSM-5 acute insomnia) were randomized to receive the intervention/no intervention (good sleepers) or intervention/intervention after 28 days (poor sleepers). Insomnia severity was assessed using the ISI (primary outcome), and anxiety and depression using the GAD-7/PHQ-9 (secondary outcomes) at baseline, 1 week, 1 month, and 3-month follow-up. 

Results: In people with acute insomnia, relative to baseline, there were significant reductions in ISI (d z = 1.17), GAD-7 (d z = 0.70), and PHQ-9 (d z = 0.60) scores at 1-week follow-up. ISI, GAD-7, and PHQ-9 scores were significantly lower at all follow-up time points, relative to baseline. Subjective diary-derived sleep continuity was unaffected. No beneficial effects on sleep or mood were observed in good sleepers. 

Conclusions: An online behavioral self-help intervention rapidly reduces acute insomnia severity (within 1 week), and benefits mood in people with acute insomnia. These beneficial effects are maintained up to 3 months later. Although the use of the intervention is feasible in good sleepers, their subjective sleep was unaffected. 

Clinical Trial registration: Testing an early online intervention for the treatment of disturbed sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic; prospectively registered at ISRCTN on 8 April 2020 (identifier: ISRCTN43900695).

Original languageEnglish
Article numberzsae059
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Early online date2 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2024

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