BACKGROUND:The promotion of sleep in older adults is a significant issue in high-level residential aged care facilities, with as many as 67% of residents experiencing disruptions to their sleep patterns. Not only do health concerns such as cognitive impairment, pain and incontinence impact upon this population's sleep quality and quantity, but environmental factors including noise, light and night-time nursing care also affect sleep of those residing in institutions. In order to address the issue of sleep disruption, assessment and diagnosis of sleep problems and implementation of interventions that are effective in promoting sleep are essential. OBJECTIVES:The objective of this review was to determine the most effective tools for the assessment and diagnosis of sleep in older adults in high-level aged care. The review also sought to determine the most effective strategies for the promotion of sleep in this population. Outcome measures for this review were: indicators of improved sleep quality and quantity, including an improvement in daytime functioning and improved night-time sleep; reduction in use of hypnotics and sedatives; and increased satisfaction with sleep. SEARCH STRATEGY:A literature search was performed using the following databases for the years 1993-2003: AgeLine, APAIS Health, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, Current Contents, Dissertation Abstracts International, Embase, Medline, Proquest, PsycInfo, Science Citations Index. A second search stage was conducted through review of reference lists of studies retrieved during the first search stage. The search was limited to published and unpublished material in English language. SELECTION CRITERIA:The review was limited to papers addressing sleep diagnosis, assessment and/or management in adults aged 65 or over who were residing in high-level aged care. The review included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and, due to the limited number of RCTs available, non-RCTs, cohort and case control studies and qualitative research were also considered for inclusion. Research was included if it addressed the assessment, diagnosis or management of sleep using outcome measure of improved night-time sleep or daytime function, improvements in resident satisfaction with sleep or reduction in medication use associated with sleep. The types of interventions considered by this review were alternative therapies including massage, aromatherapy and medicinal herbs; behavioural or cognitive interventions; biochemical interventions; environmental interventions; pharmacological interventions and related nocturnal interventions such as continence care. Instruments and strategies to diagnose and assess the sleep of older high-level care residents, including objective and subjective assessment tools, were considered by this review. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS:All retrieved papers were critically appraised for eligibility for inclusion and methodological quality independently by two reviewers, and the same reviewers collected details of eligible research. Papers were grouped according to the type of intervention or type of assessment tool used and findings were presented in a narrative summary. FINDINGS:Wrist actigraphy was found to be the most accurate objective sleep assessment tool for use in the population of interest, and issues surrounding its use are presented. Although no subjective sleep assessment tools were identified in this review, the evidence suggested that subjective reports of sleep quality are an important consideration in sleep assessment. Evidence suggested that behavioural observations may be an effective assessment strategy when conducted on a frequent basis. The review found no evidence on the effectiveness of any assessment tools for the diagnosis of specific sleep problems in older adults. The use of multidisciplinary strategies including reduction of environmental noise, reduction of night-time nursing care that disrupts sleep and daytime activity is likely to be the most effective strategy for the promotion of sleep in older high-level care residents. The use of sedating medications did not appear to have a substantial effect in promoting sleep, and health practitioners in high-level aged care should consider their use cautiously.