Multiple factors are believed to contribute to disruption of patients’ sleep and negatively affect clinical outcomes in the intensive care unit. Achieving restorative sleep for critically ill patients remains a challenge.


To explore the perceptions and beliefs of staff, patients, and surrogates regarding the environmental and nonenvironmental factors in the medical intensive care unit that affect patients’ sleep.


This qualitative study included 24 medical intensive care unit staff (7 physicians, 5 respiratory therapists, 10 nurses, and 2 patient-care assistants), 8 patients, and 6 patient surrogates. Semistructured interviews were conducted, and qualitative analysis of content was used to code, categorize, and identify interview themes.


Interview responses revealed 4 themes with related subthemes: (1) The overnight medical intensive care unit environment does affect sleep, (2) nonenvironmental factors such as difficult emotions and anxiety also affect sleep, (3) respondents’ perceptions about sleep quality in the medical intensive care unit were highly variable, and (4) suggestions for sleep improvement included reassuring patients and care-clustering strategies.


Results of this study suggest that environment is not the only factor influencing patients’ sleep. Decreases in environmental sources of disturbance are necessary but not sufficient for sleep improvement. Guideline-recommended clustered care is needed to provide adequate sleep opportunity, but patients’ emotions and anxiety also must be addressed.

You do not currently have access to this content.