Low-dose nocturnal dexmedetomidine prevents ICU delirium a randomized, placebo-controlled trial

Yoanna Skrobik, Matthew S. Duprey, Nicholas S. Hill, John W. Devlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

177 Scopus citations


Rationale: Dexmedetomidine is associated with less delirium than benzodiazepines and better sleep architecture than either benzodiazepines or propofol; its effect on delirium and sleep when administered at night to patients requiring sedation remains unclear. Objectives: To determine if nocturnal dexmedetomidine prevents delirium and improves sleep in critically ill adults. Methods: This two-center, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial randomized 100 delirium-free critically ill adults receiving sedatives to receive nocturnal (9:30 P.M. to 6:15 A.M.) intravenous dexmedetomidine (0.2 mg/kg/h, titrated by 0.1 mg /kg/h every 15 min until a goal Richmond Agitation and Sedation Scale score of 21 or maximum rate of 0.7 mg/kg/h was reached) or placebo until ICU discharge. During study infusions, all sedatives were halved; opioids were unchanged. Delirium was assessed using the Intensive Care Delirium Screening Checklist every 12 hours throughout the ICU admission. Sleep was evaluated each morning by the Leeds Sleep Evaluation Questionnaire. Measurements and Main Results: Nocturnal dexmedetomidine (vs. placebo) was associated with a greater proportion of patients who remained delirium-free during the ICU stay (dexmedetomidine [40 (80%) of 50 patients] vs. placebo [27 (54%) of 50 patients]; relative risk, 0.44; 95% confidence interval, 0.23–0.82; P = 0.006). The average Leeds Sleep Evaluation Questionnaire score was similar (mean difference, 0.02; 95% confidence interval, 0.42–1.92) between the 34 dexmedetomidine (average seven assessments per patient) and 30 placebo (six per patient) group patients able to provide one or more assessments. Incidence of hypotension, bradycardia, or both did not differ significantly between groups. Conclusions: Nocturnal administration of low-dose dexmedetomidine in critically ill adults reduces the incidence of delirium during the ICU stay; patient-reported sleep quality appears unchanged.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1147-1156
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by an unrestricted, investigator-initiated research grant from Hospira Canada. Hospira Canada had no role in the conception, design, or conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, interpretation, or presentation of the data; or preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2018 by the American Thoracic Society.


  • Delirium
  • Dexmedetomidine
  • Intensive care
  • Randomized controlled trial
  • Sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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