Ever heard the fairy tale when you've been in the hospital that being there will help you to rest and recover? Did you ever find that to be true?
I remember being told this after having a baby, and I wondered at the time why someone would say that. I was eager to get back home to a household of small children, knowing I would get more and better rest there than in the hospital.
A study from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Cambridge Health Alliance, struck a chord with me for this reason.
Research indicated that the usual noises in a hospital could be disruptive to sleep, possibly having a less than restful effect on cardiovascular and brain activity.
Orfeu Buxton, PhD, BWH Division of Sleep Medicine, co-lead study author, used the term "noise-polluted" in describing a hospital setting.
Twelve healthy participants took part in a three-day study in a sleep laboratory. Everyone slept well the first night.
During the other two nights, 14 recorded sounds -- an intravenous alarm, a helicopter, an ice machine, a telephone, outside traffic and voices in the hallway-- were allowed to infiltrate their sleep. These sounds got progressively louder throughout particular stages of sleep.
Loud noises were disruptive. No surprise there. However, it was also found that some sounds were even more disruptive even when they were very quiet. This was the case with electronic sounds.
It was seen that the stage of sleep played a part in determining which aspects of sound made an impression on the sleeper as well.
For instance, the type of sound made the most impact on those in non-rapid eye movement or NREM sleep. Volume of sound had the greatest effect during rapid eye movement or REM sleep.
Heart rate was affected by noise, even sounds that are so low as to be below conscious awareness. Heart rate was only mildly affected, but researchers speculate that disruptions that happen repeatedly as is the case in a hospital, can be a risk factor for people who are already at less than optimal health.
Future changes in the hospital environment that would protect its patients from an onslaught of steady noise were recommended by researchers.
Jo Solet, PhD, Cambridge Health Alliance, senior study author suggested possible improvements in areas such as design and construction, in night-time routines, and in technologies used for communications and alarms.
The research was published on June 12, 2012 in the Annals of Internal Medicine online.
Earlier research from Massachusetts General Hospital observed 12 healthy participants in the hospital's sleep laboratory for three nights.
There was no noise during the first night. The other two nights, sleepers were challenged by noise that gradually increased. Each sleeper was given an EEG each night.
Researchers observed that only one night was all it took to have an effect on sleepers. They are interested in further study, for instance into behavioral techniques, drugs or sleep-enhancing devices.
Jeffrey Ellenbogen, MD, chief of the MGH Division of Sleep Medicine, is also an assistant professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. He would like to see changes in hospital settings that will enable patients to sleep better during their convalescence.
This research was published in Current Biology on August 10, 2010.