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January 2011



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

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

While some of these are already computer-based they typically involve a patient using the system in isolation.

Persistent access to friends, family and therapists may prolong the beneficial effects of treatment.

Computer aid

Many people who suffer bouts of insomnia are helped in their recovery by using 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.

Dr Shaun Lawson, a reader in computer science at Lincoln University who is directing the research project, said existing PC-based CBT packages had not kept up with the changing ways that people use computers.

“The way that people interact with computers these days is not by sitting down in a room on their own looking at a screen,” he said. “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.

“The way that people engage with social networks, how many times they do it in a day, it is very similar to the kind of ways that we would really want people to interact with CBT treatment,” he said.

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.

Game play

The early stages of the project will study use of social networks to map out this pattern of activity. There are many aspects of this behaviour that could prove useful to the project, said Dr Lawson.

“What’s interesting on social networks is that people are more likely to self-disclose on them,” he said. People regularly report how they feel via Tweets or status updates in ways that would be odd or inappropriate in normal conversation.

Read in Full:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11454894

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