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Noisy Hospitals Never Give Patients a Rest

Study suggests ways to 'turn it down' so sick people can get much-needed sleep

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 4, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A hospital can be a loud place -- with peak noise levels rivaling the racket produced by a jackhammer -- making it difficult for patients to get much-needed sleep, says a Mayo Clinic nursing team study in the February issue of the American Journal of Nursing.

"Adequate sleep is important to the healing process, and sleeping in the hospital is notoriously difficult. Our continuous improvement team wanted to find specific causes for the problem, and see what concrete steps we could take to help solve it," Cheryl Cmiel, the study's lead author, says in a prepared statement.

She and her colleagues measured overnight hospital noise levels. They found peak noise levels as high as 113 decibels -- about the same as a jackhammer or chainsaw -- occurred at around 7 a.m. during the morning shift change. The 11 p.m. shift change also generated high noise levels.

As a result of the nursing team's noise research, changes were made to reduce noise and help patients sleep better.

These changes included:

  • Moving staff reports at shift change to an enclosed room, instead of at the nurses' station.
  • Placing foam rubber padding in the chart holders outside patient rooms and in the pneumatic tube document delivery system.
  • Replacing noisy roll-type paper towel dispensers with silent folded-towel dispensers.
  • Routinely closing doors to patients' rooms.
  • Modifying cardiac monitor settings so there are lower volumes in the patients' rooms, but with additional alarms sounding at the nurses' station.
  • Changing nightly chest X-ray times to 10 p.m. instead of 3 a.m.
  • Using flashlights instead of overhead lights when entering patients' rooms.
  • Staff education to increase awareness about the issue and about noise control measures.

Noise levels were measured again after these changes were made. The peak shift noise level dropped to 86 decibels, a reduction of more than 80 percent. (A drop of just 10 decibels would cut the noise intensity by half.) The average overnight noise levels declined from 45 decibels to 42 decibels.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about getting a good night's sleep.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, Feb. 4, 2004
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