Study suggests excessive noise on hospital wards impacting patient care

Hospitals have “forgotten the basic lessons of patient care”, researchers have suggested, with children struggling to sleep on noisy wards.

Noise levels at night for young patients exceeded the maximum limit recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and are “significantly” higher than their bedrooms at home, according to a study in journal Archives Of Disease In Childhood.

This may be contributing to shorter and poorer quality sleep when children stay overnight in hospitals, the researchers said.

“Despite 150 years of medical progress we have forgotten the basic lessons of patient care,” they wrote.

“Sleep is one aspect of care that can be freely delivered and future research should evaluate interventions which promote sleep for children and parents alike.”

The small study compared the sleep of 40 children and 16 mothers across wards at Southampton Children’s Hospital and at home.

Children got 63 fewer minutes sleep per night when in hospital, averaging less than seven-and-a-half hours in total, the study found.

Mothers got 73 fewer minutes of shut-eye than normal and averaged six hours and 20 minutes.

The quality of sleep was also poorer when in hospital which may affect the child’s behaviour, recovery and pain tolerance, the researchers said.

The average sound level on the children’s wards at night was 48.24 decibels and up to 50.35 decibels for open bay beds.

This exceeds the WHO recommended average maximum for a hospital ward of 30 decibels, peaking at 45 decibels, and the background noise recorded in children’s bedrooms, which was 34.7 decibels.

“Sound levels are significantly raised in hospital and may contribute to poor sleep,” the authors said.

“Reduction in the level of noise might lead to an improvement in sleep, affecting the quality of stay of both parent and child.”

They added that the importance of sleep was exemplified by Florence Nightingale, who wrote in 1859: “Unnecessary noise is the cruellest absence of care.”

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