Interventions to improve sleep in adults and children with kidney disease

What is the issue?

People with kidney disease can have severe sleep problems related to use of medications, depression, anxiety, pain, and itch that impact on the quality of sleep itself, including the time it takes to get to sleep, staying asleep, and the total time spent sleeping. Kidney disease is linked to sleep disordered breathing that can decrease sleep quality. We looked at whether treatment could help improve the quality of sleep for people who have kidney disease. We looked for studies that included children and adults with kidney disease, including those who were treated with dialysis or a kidney transplant.

What did we do?

We looked at electronic databases to find research studies of any treatment that was designed to help with sleep problems. Studies needed to be randomised (in other words, patients needed to have an equal chance that they might receive one of the treatments in the study). We collected information from the studies and combined this to identify whether treatment was helpful or if there were important side-effects. We looked at how certain we could be that the treatments had any effects based on how well the studies were conducted (quality). The information in this review is up to date as of October 2018.

What did we find?

We found 67 studies that involved 3427 adults. We found no studies for children. The treatments for sleep included relaxation, exercise, medicines, education, psychological support, acupressure, music, aromatherapy, and massage. Generally, the studies were small and most did not tell us about the benefits and safety of the treatments. We did not find good information about relaxation, exercise, or medicines. We found that acupressure may reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep and may increase the time spent asleep. But these effects on sleep were not seen when acupressure was compared against "pretend" or "sham" acupressure. There was not enough information to learn about side-effects of treatments, or to know about treatments that are designed to help improve breathing when asleep.


Information about ways to help improve sleep for people with kidney disease is not ready to help patients directly. New research is very likely to change our knowledge about treatments for sleep among people with kidney disease.

Authors' conclusions: 

The evidence base for improving sleep quality and related outcomes for adults and children with CKD is sparse. Relaxation techniques and exercise had uncertain effects on sleep outcomes. Acupressure may improve sleep latency and duration, although these findings are based on few studies. The effects of acupressure were not confirmed in studies in which sham acupressure was used as the control. Given the very low certainly evidence, future research will very likely change the evidence base. Based on the importance of symptom management to patients, caregivers and clinicians, future studies of sleep interventions among people with CKD should be a priority.

Read the full abstract...

Sleep disorders are commonly experienced by people with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Several approaches for improving sleep quality are used in clinical practice including relaxation techniques, exercise, acupressure, and medication.


To assess the effectiveness and associated adverse events of interventions designed to improve sleep quality among adults and children with CKD including people with end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) treated with dialysis or kidney transplantation.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant Register of Studies up to 8 October 2018 with the Information Specialist using search terms relevant to this review. Studies in the Register are identified through searches of CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and EMBASE, conference proceedings, the International Clinical Trials Register (ICTRP) Search Portal and

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-randomised RCTs of any intervention in which investigators reported effects on sleep quality. Two authors independently screened titles and abstracts of identified records.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed the risk of bias for included studies. The primary outcomes were sleep quality, sleep onset latency, sleep duration, sleep interruption, and sleep efficiency. Risks of bias were assessed using the Cochrane tool. Evidence certainty was assessed using the GRADE approach. We calculated treatment estimates as risk ratios (RR) for dichotomous outcomes or mean difference (MD) or standardised MD (SMD) for continuous outcomes to account for heterogeneity in measures of sleep quality.

Main results: 

Sixty-seven studies involving 3427 participants met the eligibility criteria. Thirty-six studies involving 2239 participants were included in meta-analyses. Follow-up for clinical outcomes ranged between 0.3 and 52.8 weeks (median 5 weeks). Interventions included relaxation techniques, exercise, acupressure, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), educational interventions, benzodiazepine treatment, dopaminergic agonists, telephone support, melatonin, reflexology, light therapy, different forms of peritoneal dialysis, music, aromatherapy, and massage. Incomplete reporting of key methodological details resulted in uncertain risk of bias in many studies.

In very low certainty evidence relaxation techniques had uncertain effects on sleep quality and duration, health-related quality of life (HRQoL), depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Studies were not designed to evaluate the effects of relaxation on sleep latency or hospitalisation. Exercise had uncertain effects on sleep quality (SMD -1.10, 95% CI -2.26 to 0.05; I2 = 90%; 5 studies, 165 participants; very low certainty evidence). Exercise probably decreased depression (MD -9.05, 95% CI -13.72 to -4.39; I2 = 0%; 2 studies, 46 participants; moderate certainty evidence) and fatigue (SMD -0.68, 95% CI -1.07 to -0.29; I2 = 0%; 2 studies, 107 participants; moderate certainty evidence). Compared with no acupressure, acupressure had uncertain effects on sleep quality (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) scale 0 - 21) (MD -1.27, 95% CI -2.13 to -0.40; I2 = 89%; 6 studies, 367 participants: very low certainty evidence). Acupressure probably slightly improved sleep latency (scale 0 - 3) (MD -0.59, 95% CI -0.92 to -0.27; I2 = 0%; 3 studies, 173 participants; moderate certainty evidence) and sleep time (scale 0 - 3) (MD -0.60, 95% CI -1.12 to -0.09; I2 = 68%; 3 studies, 173 participants; moderate certainty evidence), although effects on sleep disturbance were uncertain as the evidence certainty was very low (scale 0 - 3) (MD -0.49, 95% CI -1.16 to 0.19; I2 = 97%). In moderate certainty evidence, acupressure probably decrease fatigue (MD -1.07, 95% CI -1.67 to -0.48; I2 = 0%; 2 studies, 137 participants). Acupressure had uncertain effects on depression (MD -3.65, 95% CI -7.63 to 0.33; I2 = 27%; 2 studies, 137 participants; very low certainty evidence) while studies were not designed to evaluate the effect of acupressure on HRQoL, anxiety, or hospitalisation. It was uncertain whether acupressure compared with sham acupressure improved sleep quality (PSQI scale 0 to 21) because the certainty of the evidence was very low (MD -2.25, 95% CI -6.33 to 1.82; I2 = 96%; 2 studies, 129 participants), but total sleep time may have been improved (SMD -0.34, 95% CI -0.73 to 0.04; I2 = 0%; 2 studies, 107 participants; low certainty evidence). 2 =2 =There were no studies designed to directly examine and/or correlate efficacy of any interventions aimed at improving sleep that may have been attempted for the spectrum of sleep disordered breathing. No studies reported treatment effects for children. Adverse effects of therapies were very uncertain.