Hospital noises disrupt sleep of patients, new research shows

medics running down hospital corridorThe cacophony of noises commonly heard in hospitals can disrupt a patient’s sleep, which can negatively affect brain activity and cardiovascular function, according to a recent study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Cambridge Health Alliance.

“Hospitals and actually most urban sleep environments are increasingly noise-polluted,” says Dr. Orfeu Buxton, assistant professor of sleep at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and co-lead author of the study. “This study highlights the importance of sleep for restoration and healing that is particularly important for hospitalized patients.”

Twelve healthy adults participated in the three-day study, which took place in a sleep laboratory. On the first night, the volunteers slept without any disruption. On the following two nights, they were presented with 14 recorded sounds commonly heard in a hospital—an intravenous alarm, a telephone, voices in the hall, outside traffic, a helicopter, etc.—at increasing decibel levels during specific stages of sleep.

As expected, the louder the sound, the more likely it was to disrupt sleep, but the type of sound also was significant. The researchers found that of all noises, electronic sounds were most arousing, even at a volume just above a whisper.

Even subtle sleep disruptions can cause temporary elevation in a patient’s heart rate. Although the increases were modest, researchers are concerned that repeated disruptions in a hospital room could jeopardize the health of high-risk populations.

The study was published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine on June 12.