Reducing noise levels in hospitals crucial for patients’ sleep

    Sleep is crucial to good health – but a good night’s rest is tough to get in the place where people need it most.

    Researchers at Harvard Medical school’s division of sleep medicine exposed a group of healthy study participants to typical hospital noises — beeping machines, hallway chatter, toilets flushing, helicopters approaching — and measured what woke them up. Electronic sounds were the most disturbing, but other sounds disrupted sleep as well and in some instances, sped up people’s heart rates.

    This research confirms what complaining patients tell hospital administrators all the time and it’s something nurses and doctors worry about since sleep is crucial for recovery.

    Locally, hospitals are trying to tackle this issue.

    Pennsylvania Hospital started a noise reduction initiative in its Philadelphia facilities last year. Dan Wilson spearheads this campaign. He says hospital staff first got a better sense of the noise levels, and then set out to eliminate the worst offenders.

    “Changing to rubber wheels, using rubber soles,” listed Wilson. “Eliminating chirping of the phones, we have phones that have a chirp function when somebody wants to contact you, turning pagers to vibrate, using soft panels on the walls, and softening hard surfaces,” he added.

    Medical machine alarms were another major concern: “We wanted to be sure that we were safe, that our alarms were loud enough that they could be heard, but not too loud,” said Wilson. “We also wanted to be sure that we were responding to our alarms in a faster fashion, that way alarms were not going on for prolonged periods of time, irritating our patients.”

    Wilson says the campaign has shown results through patients satisfaction surveys — far fewer now complain about night time disturbances.

    Einstein Health Network is building a brand-new hospital in East Norriton, Montgomery County, and noise levels are on Rich Montalbano’s mind. He is in charge of constructing the 146-bed facility. He says all patient rooms will have windows with blinds on the outside, allowing nurses to peak in.

    “Nursing personnel can look into the room and see if the patient is resting comfortably, or tossing, turning. But they can do that without disturbing the patient. With the doors closed the patient will not hear the noise that emanates from the corridor,” said Montalbano.

    Montalbano says the newest hospitals are constructed with the patient’s experience in mind – to allow for efficient medical procedures, as well as restful recovery.

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