Peter Hames sleeps like a baby most nights, but it wasn't always that way. Four years ago Hames, the co-founder and CEO of Sleepio, developed insomnia.
He had studied experimental psychology in university, so he was aware of effective, drug-free ways to address the problem. When he went to his doctor, Hames was given sleeping pills instead of a referral for cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, a type of treatment that helps identify and understand how thoughts and feelings influence our behaviour.
So Hames tracked down a self-help book by Colin Espie and with its direction, meticulously tracked his sleep patterns and followed the instructions.
Despite his own educational background and interest in using CBT to battle sleepless nights, Hames said he was still surprised at how well it worked.
“I knew the theory of it being incredibly effective, but I must say the practice was pretty stunning. Until you experience it yourself, it’s quite hard to believe the incredible results you see written up in scientific papers.”
So he went to the source, put on a suit and headed up to Glasgow to meet Espie, the man who had helped him conquer his own sleep problems. Espie, who now teaches at Oxford and is a leading sleep expert, helped Hames develop Sleepio.
“The idea from day one really was that this stuff is powerful even when delivered via a self-help book, then imagine what we could do using the power of technology.”
The end result is a digital sleep improvement program that will cost you anywhere from $10 to $120, depending on the package you choose. Tired users can sign up, answer questions to assess their current sleep and follow their own program. Users who already own trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone can sync the programs to upload their collected sleep data.
“You get to visit your virtual animated sleep expert the prof, and his narcoleptic dog Pavlov," Hames explained.
"And he leads you through a very tailored, personalized program of cognitive behavioural therapy. And then unlocks tools to help you put those techniques he teaches you into practice.”
Hames said they have published a clinical trial, similar in design to what pharmaceuticals go through with placebo groups. He wanted to be sure they could prove it was as effective as face-to-face therapy in overcoming poor sleep.
“It thankfully showed that in 75 per cent of cases, we were able to get people sleeping well in just a matter of weeks even if they’d had sleep problems for decades," he said.
"So it gave us really reliable, resilient data that was then peer-reviewed and published in scientific journals that it really does work.”