Critically ill patients are known to suffer from severely fragmented sleep with a predominance of stage I sleep and a paucity of slow wave and REM sleep. The causes of this sleep disruption include the intensive care unit (ICU) environment, medical illness, psychological stress, and many of the medications and other treatments used to help those who are critically ill. The clinical importance of this type of sleep disruption in critically ill patients, however, is not known. This article reviews the literature on sleep disruption in the ICU, the effects of sepsis on sleep, the effects of commonly used ICU medications on sleep, the relationship between sleep and sedation, and the literature on the biological and psychological consequences of sleep deprivation specifically as it relates to the critically ill. Finally, an integrative approach to improving sleep in the ICU is described.