A new review from the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System examines which complementary and alternative therapies are most effective at helping critically ill patients sleep better.

Researchers at Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System reviewed seven studies that examined the effect of complementary and alternative therapies on sleep promotion in critically ill patients. The research shows that massage, music therapy and therapeutic touch promote relaxation and comfort in critically ill patients, which likely leads to improved sleep.

The review concluded with the following conclusions and recommendations:

Massage, music therapy and therapeutic touch are safe for critically ill patients and should be routinely applied by ICU nurses who have received training on how to provide these interventions.

Environmental interventions, such as reducing noise, playing white noise such as ocean sounds, and decreasing interruptions to sleep for care, also are safe and logical interventions that ICU nurses should use to help patients sleep.

Progressive muscle relaxation has been shown to be helpful for improving sleep in patients with insomnia, but because it requires that they consciously attend to relaxing specific muscle groups and practice these techniques, this may be difficult and impractical for critically ill patients.

Aromatherapy and alternative sedatives, such as valerian and melatonin, are not recommended because the safety of these substances is unclear.

Citation: Richards K, Nagel C, Markie M, Elwell J, Barone C. Use of complementary and alternative therapies to promote sleep in critically ill patients. Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America. 2003 Sep;15 (3): pp. 329-40. [email protected]