Common Hospital Noises Disrupt Sleep

June 28, 2012

According to new research, certain hospital sounds, including electronic alarms, telephones, and conversations, can wake people up even at relatively low levels. The results point to ways hospitals can focus on mitigating the most disruptive noises.

Reuters Health reported on the investigation.

“We don't necessarily just have to make [the hospital] quieter,” said Jeremy Ackerman of the Emory’s School of Medicine in Atlanta and a member of the International Healthcare Acoustics Research Team, who spoke to Reuters Health about the study but was not involved in the research. “We need to be particularly careful to avoid designing into systems and into the architecture very disruptive sounds.”            

Ackerman also told Reuters that “we have a general sense that loud sounds, interruptive sounds all create an environment that is likely to slow healing.”

Nighttime noises are among the chief complaints among patients surveyed about their hospital stays. According to the study’s leader, Orfeu Buxton, a neuroscientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, said that “it's nerve-wracking enough to be a hospitalized patient, and there's a lot of racket at night.”

The article stated that hospital noise levels can spike to 80 decibels (dB), about as loud as a chainsaw.

The researchers piped sounds into hospital rooms occupied by twelve healthy, sleeping volunteers in order to determine at what noise levels they awoke. Most of the noises were recorded in real hospitals and included pump alarms, people talking, a plane flying overhead, and a laundry cart rolling down the hall.

The findings showed that when it comes to disturbing sleep, “alarms and voices are clearly the worst offenders,” Buxton said.

To read the entire article, click here.

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