A 70-year-old lady was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with respiratory failure and septic shock secondary to pneumococcal pneumonia. She developed multi- organ failure, requiring a prolonged period of mechanical ventilation and weaning, and also developed acute kidney injury requiring haemofiltration. Once a tracheostomy was performed and sedative infusions weaned, she was noted to be acutely delirious. Her sleep pattern was severely disrupted, with extended periods of nighttime wakefulness and sleep fragmentation, increased daytime sleep and difficulty with sleep initiation requiring pharmacological intervention.
Following exclusion of organic causes including CT brain imaging, the delirium was managed with a combination of antipsychotic medications including haloperidol, mirtazapine and quetiapine. Benzodiazepine-based night sedation was used but found to be ineffective in establishing sustained sleep.
A trial of night sedation with infusion of Propofol did not have any ongoing or long-lasting benefit other than the immediate sedative effects and providing control of agitation. A trial of Dexmedetomidine infusion also yielded similar results, although a more sustained daytime anxiolytic effect was noted. Benzodiazepine therapy was changed to supplementation of Melatonin. At around this time, the delirium began to resolve and the patient was able to more actively engage in physiotherapy and patient care. By the time of ICU discharge over thirty days later, and following successful weaning and decannulation, the patient’s sleep pattern had improved significantly.
What are the implications of sleep deprivation in the critically ill patient and how can it be managed?