Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Share this article on:

Delirium and sleep disturbances in the intensive care unit: can we do better?

Weinhouse, Gerald L.

Current Opinion in Anesthesiology: August 2014 - Volume 27 - Issue 4 - p 403–408
doi: 10.1097/ACO.0000000000000093
DRUGS IN ANESTHESIA: Edited by Klaus Hahnenkamp

Purpose of review Delirium in the ICU affects as many as 60–80% of mechanically ventilated patients and a smaller but substantial percentage of other critically ill patients. Poor sleep quality has been consistently observed in critically ill patients. These problems are associated with worse ICU outcomes and, in many cases, delirium and poor sleep quality may be related. This review will summarize the recent literature relevant to both the problems and provide a potential pathway toward improvement.

Recent findings Many cases of delirium and the poor sleep experienced by ICU patients may be iatrogenic. How critical care practitioners prescribe sedatives and analgesics and, perhaps more broadly, how all medications are administered to critically ill patients, may be at the root of some of these problems. Reducing the administration of some commonly used ICU medications, especially some sedatives and anticholinergic medications, and keeping patients more awake and actively engaged in their care during the day may lead to better outcomes.

Summary It is our responsibility to apply the best available, evidence-based medicine to our practice. Adherence to new guidelines for the treatment of pain, agitation, and delirium may be the best pathway toward reducing delirium, improving sleep quality, and improving related outcomes.

Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Correspondence to Gerald L. Weinhouse, MD, Brigham and Women's Hospital, 75 Francis St, Boston, MA 02115, USA. Tel: +1 617 732 5499; e-mail:

© 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.