Insomniacs given hope by Twitter

Insomniacs may soon be getting help to overcome sleeplessness via social networks....

Researchers are trying to find out if networks such as Twitter and Facebook can enhance existing treatments for insomnia, depression and anxiety.

Many people who suffer bouts of insomnia use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) through which they learn to avoid the patterns of activity and thought that make them poor sleepers.

Some therapists use computer-based learning exercises as a way to embed lessons about more positive patterns of behaviour. But now they hope that persistent access to friends, family and therapists may prolong the beneficial effects of treatment.

Dr Shaun Lawson, a reader in computer science at Lincoln University , said: ‘The way that people interact with computers these days is not by sitting down in a room on their own looking at a screen. Today people use computers to connect with each other.’

In particular, said Dr Lawson, the growing use of social networks could be a good guide to better ways to build computer-based CBT systems. Instead of just having one long session per week, on social networks people interact on a more persistent basis – some go back to visit several times a day and most check in a few times a week.

The early stages of the project will study use of social networks to map out this pattern of activity. The project hopes to learn tricks from games to encourage people to stick with therapy.

‘It uses various mechanisms to hook into emotions to keep people coming back to it,’ added Dr Lawson. ‘It’s that kind of thinking we’re interested in – can we create a Twitter type of game that embeds some of the CBT principles in there?’

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