Hospital noise can make it difficult for patients to rest and recover, according to a study.(Photo: Joe Raedle, Getty Images)
A barrage of electronic alarms and conversations in hospitals leads
to something more ominous than tossing and turning at night. Restless
sleep can mean slower recoveries, new research says.
experimenting on people who were actually sick and recovering in a
hospital, a team of researchers chose to study 12 healthy adults as they
slept in a hospital lab using sounds that had been recorded in a
hospital for two nights. They found patients were easily awakened by
electronic sounds such as a blaring IV alert (that signals when someone
needs more medicines or fluids) and human conversations. Although
patients may not remember waking in the night, restless sleepers may
experience more agitation, elevated stress and impaired immune function,
Loud talking can obviously be disruptive. But
some sounds such as ice machines and rolling laundry carts, even played
at a volume close to a whisper, also woke subjects at the Harvard
University lab, according to the study, published this year in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Researcher Orfeu Buxton said research has proved disrupted sleep and
sedative-aided sleep are associated with hypertension, attention and
memory deficits, depressed moods and more return visits to the hospital.
combat the racket, many hospitals make noise reduction a priority when
planning new facilities. Anthony Perry, a geriatric physician and
clinical officer at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said he
has seen disrupted sleep aggravate patients to the point of delirium.
"Clinically, it was a topic we really wanted to see improved," Perry said.
the new Rush hospital, open since January, officials made patient rooms
private and insulated them with an extra layer of drywall. They
installed carpet in the hallways, acoustic ceiling tiles and lights that
automatically dim at night.
"When the light level goes down, it
helps (nurses) remember to be thoughtful about how much noise they're
making in the corridor with conversations and that kind of thing," Perry
The hospital was one of many to adopt a nurse calling
system that sends alerts straight to nurses' phones and turns off
beeping monitor alarms as soon as the nurse enters a patient's room,
said Lauren Sporce, a pediatric nurse at Ann and Robert H. Lurie
Children's Hospital of Chicago.
The new children's hospital uses
acoustic ceiling tiles and carpeted nursing stations, sliding doors
that seal out noise, private single-patient rooms and a monitor alarm
system to quiet noise. Patient satisfaction surveys showed noisy
footsteps and alarms aggravated patients in the old building, said
Children's Hospital of Chicago nurse Dana Lerma.
consistently ranked among patients' top two complaints, Sporce said, and
both visitors and nurses have shown improved moods since moving to the
"There's a lot more to sleep than just time with
your head against the pillow," said Buxton,, an author of the study.
"The brain is trained to pay attention to obnoxious alarms, and it
doesn't stop working at night."
David Kuhlmann, a sleep specialist
at Missouri's Bothwell Regional Health Center, said facilities should
keep taking steps to ease patients' stays, especially for those who are
most at risk.
"Sleep is supposed to be a time of restoration,"
Kuhlmann said. "For someone who's maybe had some mild cognitive
impairment ... poor sleep can be the difference between having a good
day or a not-good day, and hospitals need to take this into account."