Sleep is important to health and well-being, and studies in healthy adults have demonstrated that sleep deprivation impacts respiratory, immune, and cognitive function. Historically, because of the nature of critical illness, sleep has not been considered a priority for patient care in the ICU. More recently, research has demonstrated that sleep is markedly abnormal in patients who are critically ill. In addition, there is often disruption of circadian rhythms. Delirium is a syndrome of acute alteration in mental status that occurs in the setting of contributing factors such as serious illness, medication, and drug or alcohol intoxication or withdrawal. Delirium is a frequent occurrence in critical illness, and research has demonstrated several adverse outcomes associated with delirium including persistent cognitive impairment and increased mortality. Sleep deprivation and delirium share many common symptoms. The similarity in symptoms between sleep disruption and delirium have prompted experts to draw links between the two and question both the relationship and its direction. In addition, the inclusion of sleep disturbance to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition in its constellation of symptoms used in diagnosing delirium has increased awareness of the link between sleep and delirium. This paper will review the literature on sleep in critical illness and the potential mechanisms and pathways that may connect sleep and delirium.
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