Stress-Induced Behavioral Quiescence and Abnormal Rest-Activity Rhythms During Critical Illness

Matthew B. Maas*, Bryan D. Lizza, Minjee Kim, Sabra M. Abbott, Maged Gendy, Kathryn J. Reid, Phyllis C. Zee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Objectives: To characterize acute alterations of circadian and ultradian rest-activity rhythms in critically ill patients and their association with brain dysfunction, systemic multiple organ dysfunction, and melatonin rhythms. Design: Prospective study observing a cohort for 48 hours beginning within the first day of ICU admission. Setting: ICUs within an academic medical center. Patients: Patients presenting from the community with acute onset of either intracerebral hemorrhage or sepsis as representative neurologic and systemic critical illnesses. Healthy control patients were studied in the community, during hospital bedrest, and during sleep deprivation. Interventions: None. Measurements and Main Results: Circadian and ultradian characteristics of rest-activity patterns were measured by wrist actigraphy, severity of neurologic and systemic illness by Glasgow Coma Scale and Sequential Organ Failure Assessment, and central circadian rhythm by melatonin profile. We studied 112 critically ill patients, including 53 with sepsis and 59 with intracerebral hemorrhage, along with 53 control participants. Total daily activity was markedly reduced and rest-activity rhythmicity was undetectable, neither of which was replicated by hospital bedrest in healthy controls. Circadian rest-activity rhythm fragmentation and attenuation and ultradian disorganization was associated with Glasgow Coma Scale and Sequential Organ Failure Assessment in adjusted models. Rest-activity rhythms showed no detectable phase coherence with melatonin rhythms. Conclusions: Critically ill patients rapidly enter a state of behavioral quiescence proportionate to their illness severity with concomitant disturbance of circadian and ultradian rest-activity rhythms and loss of phase coherence with the melatonin rhythm. Quiescence characteristics in rest-activity rhythms were not different in patients with and without delirium, suggesting them to be distinct phenomena. Animal models of severe physiologic stress have shown that specific neural pathway separate from the sleep-wake regulatory pathway induce behavioral quiescence and rest-activity arrhythmia, and facilitate recovery of cellular homeostasis. Whether quiescence is a conserved protective response pathway in humans is not yet understood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)862-871
Number of pages10
JournalCritical care medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • actigraphy
  • circadian
  • critical illness
  • encephalopathy
  • intensive care
  • quiescence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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