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Hospital Noises Disturb Sleep, Hinder Recovery

Hospital Noises Disturb Sleep, Hinder RecoveryGetting enough sleep plays a critical role in recovering from an illness. Patients staying in a hospital especially need a peaceful space in order to get well.

However, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Massachusetts General Hospital and Cambridge Health Alliance, say there are certain noises in a common hospital setting that can keep a patient from sleeping. These disturbances can negatively affect brain activity and cardiovascular function.

“Hospitals and actually most urban sleep environments are increasingly noise-polluted,” said Orfeu Buxton, Ph.D., BWH Division of Sleep Medicine, co-lead study author. “This study highlights the importance of sleep for restoration and healing that is particularly important for hospitalized patients.”

For the study, 12 healthy volunteers participated in a three-day study which took place in a sleep laboratory. On the first night, the participants slept without any disruption.

During the next two nights, they were exposed to 14 recorded sounds commonly heard in a hospital, including an intravenous alarm, telephone, ice machine, voices in the hall, outside traffic and a helicopter.  The sounds were presented at increasing decibel levels during specific stages of sleep.

As expected, the louder the sound the more likely it disrupted sleep. However, there were unexpectedly large differences in sleep disruption based on sound type—independent of the sound’s volume. Electronic sounds were most arousing, even at a volume just above a whisper.

Furthermore, a person’s sleep stage affected whether sound would lead to arousal. During non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, sound type influenced arousal; whereas, during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, volume had more of an impact.

Sleep disruption from hospital noises also affected cardiovascular function.

“Beyond disturbing sleep itself, we showed that noise-induced sleep disruptions –even subtle ones, beneath conscious awareness – lead to temporary elevations in heart rate,” said Jeffrey Ellenbogen, M.D., director of Sleep Medicine at MGH, co-lead study author.

“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 study demonstrates how hospital sounds can disturb sleep, providing evidence of the importance of quiet environments in new and existing health care facilities to offer the highest quality of care.

“There are several strategies for protecting patient sleep in hospitals,” said Jo Solet, Ph.D., Cambridge Health Alliance, senior study author. “These include acoustic performance guidelines for design and construction, altered night-care routines, and enhanced technologies for clinician communication and medical alarms.”

The study is published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Source:  Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Patient in hospital bed photo by shutterstock.

Hospital Noises Disturb Sleep, Hinder Recovery

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Hospital Noises Disturb Sleep, Hinder Recovery. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 28 Jun 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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