Open-label placebo for insomnia (OPIN): study protocol for a cohort multiple randomised controlled trial

Ben Colagiuri*, Louise Sharpe, Zahava Ambarchi, Nick Glozier, Delwyn Bartlett, Daniel S. J. Costa, Amelia Scott

*Corresponding author for this work

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INTRODUCTION: Insomnia is a prevalent sleep disorder that causes substantial personal and societal harm. There is evidence that placebo interventions can reduce insomnia symptoms, but this research has involved deceptively administering the placebo under the guise of a real medication (conventional placebo, CP), which has obvious ethical constraints. Open-label placebo (OLP) treatment, in which a placebo is administered with full disclosure that there are no active ingredients, has been proposed as a method of using the placebo effect ethically, but the efficacy and acceptability of OLP for insomnia is currently unknown.

METHODS AND ANALYSIS: This study uses a cohort multiple randomised controlled trial design to compare OLP, CP and no treatment for insomnia. Two-hundred and sixty-seven participants with self-reported insomnia symptoms (Insomnia Severity Index, ISI ≥10) will be recruited into an observational study and have their sleep monitored over a 2-week period. Participants will then be randomised to one of three groups: invite to OLP, invite to CP described deceptively as a new pharmacological agent, or no invite/observational control. Those in OLP and CP accepting the invite receive identical placebos for a 2-week treatment period while sleep is monitored in all participants. The primary outcome is ISI at the end of the treatment period. Secondary outcomes include treatment uptake and clinically significant response rates, objective and subjective sleep parameters, fatigue, mood, expectancy, treatment satisfaction and side effects. Predictors of uptake and responses to OLP and CP will be explored.

ETHICS AND DISSEMINATION: The trial has been approved by The University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee. Written informed consent is obtained from every participant. OLP and CP participants accepting the invite undergo an additional consent process. Results will be disseminated via peer-reviewed conference proceedings and publications.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere044045
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • clinical trials
  • psychiatry
  • sleep medicine


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