Wake Up and Go to Sleep: This Hospital Routine Is Not Funny

No one goes to a hospital for fine dining, fabulous room views or 500-thread count sheets. A hospital is not a hotel. Nor, according to a recent study, is it a place for a good night’s sleep.

Hospitals are where people go to be treated and to heal. And because healing generally requires sufficient rest, the study results, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, put scientific muscle behind common sense.

Sounds commonly heard in hospitals were deemed by researchers to be noise pollution, which can disrupt sleep and impair brain activity and cardiovascular function. The sounds with which hospital patients regularly must cope include:

  • intravenous alarms;
  • telephones;
  • ice machines;
  • voices in the hall;
  • outside traffic; and
  • helicopters.

Among the different sources, the most arousing sounds were electronic, even if their volume was low. During the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stage of sleep, the type of sound was more influential for disturbance; during REM sleep, volume was key.

Even subtle noises-those that didn’t awaken the patient-affected the sleeping person’s heart rate. As one of the study’s authors noted, “While these effects were modest in size, our concern is that repeated disruptions, as might occur in a hospital room, may jeopardize the health of our most vulnerable populations.”

The researchers hope that by quantifying negative health effects of what many people assume is merely annoying that hospitals will adopt “acoustic performance guidelines,” beginning with design and construction and including altered night-care routines and less intrusive communication technology.

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