Hospital rooms nearly as noisy as chainsaws

2012-01-11 12:44

Everybody knows hospital rooms are noisy, but now a study has confirmed it – with the added finding that noise levels may sometimes spike to nearly that of a chainsaw.

“The hospital environment is certainly not a restful environment,” said Vineet Arora, at the University of Chicago, who led the study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

In a study of about 100 adult patients at their medical centre, she and her colleagues found that noise levels in patient rooms at night tended to be lower than during the day, but almost always exceeded recommendations for average and maximum noise level.

According to World Health Organisation recommendations, noise in hospital rooms generally shouldn’t get above 30 to 40 decibels.

But Arora’s team found that the average noise level in patient rooms was close to 50 decibels, and sometimes spiked to as high as 80 decibels – almost as loud as a chainsaw.

Much of the extra noise at night was due to talking between doctors and nurses, but the loudest interruptions were likely from alarms and intercoms, she said.

Higher maximum noise levels in individual rooms were linked to sleep disruptions in their occupants, with patients sleeping over an hour less in the hospital than they’d reported sleeping at home. They often also had restless, poor-quality sleep.

“One of the most common complaint that patients will report is that they had a difficult night sleeping,” Arora said – and that could delay their recovery.

“It could be part of a cycle of: you’re sick, you get bad sleep, and you’re not able to get better as quickly.”

But other medical experts said noise may not be the only culprit for poor patient sleep, noting that the illness for which the patients are hospitalised may also play a part.

More noise may be a reflection of more nurses having to come in and out, checking on patients or giving them medicine – indicating that they may be sicker than those with less noisy rooms.

“That doesn’t mean that ... noise is not a factor – noise is certainly a factor,” said Sairam Parthasarathy, who studies patient sleep at the University of Arizona in Tucson but was not involved in the study.

Parthasarathy suggested that patients keep their blinds open during the day to get natural sunlight, wear noise-cancelling headphones if sound on the ward is disturbing them, and walk around during the day if they’re physically able.

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