Efficacy of a Self-Help Web-Based Recovery Training in Improving Sleep in Workers: Randomized Controlled Trial in the General Working Population

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  • Dörte Behrendt
  • David Daniel Ebert
  • Kai Spiegelhalder
  • Dirk Lehr

BACKGROUND: Sleep complaints are among the most prevalent health concerns, especially among workers, which may lead to adverse effects on health and work. Internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (iCBT-I) offers the opportunity to deliver effective solutions on a large scale. The efficacy of iCBT-I for clinical samples has been demonstrated in recent meta-analyses, and there is evidence that iCBT-I is effective in the working population with severe sleep complaints. However, to date, there is limited evidence from randomized controlled trials that iCBT-I could also be an effective tool for universal prevention among the general working population regardless of symptom severity. Although increasing evidence suggests that negatively toned cognitive activity may be a key factor for the development and maintenance of insomnia, little is known about how iCBT-I improves sleep by reducing presleep cognitive activity. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to examine the efficacy of a self-help internet-delivered recovery training, based on principles of iCBT-I tailored to the work-life domain, among the general working population. General and work-related cognitive activities were investigated as potential mediators of the intervention's effect. METHODS: A sample of 177 workers were randomized to receive either the iCBT-I (n=88) or controls (n=89). The intervention is a Web-based training consisting of six 1-week modules. As the training was self-help, participants received nothing but technical support via email. Web-based self-report assessments were scheduled at baseline, at 8 weeks, and at 6 months following randomization. The primary outcome was insomnia severity. Secondary outcomes included measures of mental health and work-related health and cognitive activity. In an exploratory analysis, general and work-related cognitive activities, measured as worry and work-related rumination, were investigated as mediators. RESULTS: Analysis of the linear mixed effects model showed that, relative to controls, participants who received iCBT-I reported significantly lower insomnia severity scores at postintervention (between-group mean difference -4.36; 95% CI -5.59 to - 3.03; Cohen d=0.97) and at 6-month follow-up (between-group difference: -3.64; 95% CI -4.89 to -2.39; Cohen d=0.86). The overall test of group-by-time interaction was significant (P<.001). Significant differences, with small-to-large effect sizes, were also detected for cognitive activity and for mental and work-related health, but not for absenteeism. Mediation analysis demonstrated that work-related rumination (indirect effect: a1b1=-0.80; SE=0.34; 95% boot CI -1.59 to -0.25) and worry (indirect effect: a2b2=-0.37; SE=0.19; 95% boot CI -0.85 to -0.09) mediate the intervention's effect on sleep. CONCLUSIONS: A self-help Web-based recovery training, grounded in the principles of iCBT-I, can be effective in the general working population, both short and long term. Work-related rumination may be a particularly crucial mediator of the intervention's effect, suggesting that tailoring interventions to the workplace, including components to reduce the work-related cognitive activity, might be important when designing recovery interventions for workers. TRIAL REGISTRATION: German Clinical Trials Register DRKS00007142; https://www.drks.de/DRKS00007142.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13346
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number1
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 07.01.2020

Bibliographical note

The European Union funded this study, project number: EFRE: CCI 2007DE161PR001. The authors thank Hanne Horvath, who was considerably involved in the development of the training and evaluation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Journal of Medical Internet Research. All rights reserved.

    Research areas

  • e-mental-health, insomnia, mediators, occupational health, Web-based, cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Health sciences