Actigraphy to evaluate sleep in the intensive care unit: A systematic review

Kristin E. Schwab, Bonnie Ronish, Dale M. Needham, An Q. To, Jennifer L. Martin, Biren B. Kamdar

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Rationale: Poor sleep quality is common in the intensive care unit (ICU) and may be associated with adverse outcomes. Hence, ICU-based efforts to promote sleep are gaining attention, motivating interest in methods to measure sleep in critically ill patients. Actigraphy evaluates rest and activity by algorithmically processing gross motor activity data, usually collected by a noninvasive wristwatch-like accelerometer device. In critically ill patients, actigraphy has been used as a surrogate measure of sleep; however, its use has not been systematically reviewed. Objectives: To conduct a systematic review of ICU-based studies that used actigraphy as a surrogate measure of sleep, including its feasibility, validity, and reliability as a measure of sleep in critically ill patients. Methods: We searched PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, Proquest, and Web of Science for studies that used actigraphy to evaluate sleep in five or more patients in an ICU setting. Results: Our search yielded 4,869 citations, with 13 studies meeting eligibility criteria. These 13 studies were conducted in 10 countries, and eight (62%) were published since 2008. Across the 13 studies, the mean total sleep time of patients in the ICU, as estimated using actigraphy, ranged from 4.4 to 7.8 hours at nighttime and from 7.1 to 12.1 hours over a 24-hour period, with 1.4 to 49.0 mean nocturnal awakenings and a sleep efficiency of 61 to 75%. When compared side-by-side with other measures of sleep (polysomnography, nurse assessments, and patient questionnaires), actigraphy consistently yielded higher total sleep time and sleep efficiency, fewer nighttime awakenings (vs. polysomnography), and more overall awakenings (vs. nurse assessment and patient questionnaires). None of the studies evaluated the association between actigraphy-based measures of sleep and outcomes of patients in the ICU. Conclusions: In critically ill patients, actigraphy is being used more frequently as a surrogate measure of sleep; however, because actigraphy only measures gross motor activity, its ability to estimate sleep is limited by the processing algorithm used. Prior ICU-based studies involving actigraphy were heterogeneous and lacked data regarding actigraphy-based measures of sleep and patient outcomes. Larger, more rigorous and standardized studies are needed to better understand the role of actigraphy in evaluating sleep and sleep-related outcomes in critically ill patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1075-1082
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of the American Thoracic Society
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Accelerometry
  • Critical care
  • Critical illness
  • Intensive care units
  • Sleep deprivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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