ICU: Too Noisy for Sleeping

Critically ill patients benefit from sleep, but noise levels in intensive care units may interfere, a study from the Universitgy of Iowa shows.

Sleep deprivation can prolong or exacerbate illness, yet critically ill patients are exposed to too much noise in intensive care units, a University of Iowa Hospitals team in Iowa City, IA reports.

In an abstract presented at the American Thoracic Society meeting in Denver, CO, Charles Rappaport, MD, and colleagues measured sound pressure levels and patient/family perceptions of ambient sound levels in their hospital’s ICU.

The study was part of a project aimed at quality improvement.

The goal was to promote sleep and healthy circadian rhythms.

They had 44 patients and family members and 25 nurses rate the noise levels in the ICU on a scale of 1 to 10 with the highest score being the loudest.

They found the nurses rated the noise at 5.7 while the family and patients rated it at 3.1.

But they also found that actual decibel measurements showed that the sound levels were consistently far higher than the 35-40 DB rating recommended by the World Health Organization.

Levels in the ICU averaged 44.1 at the quietest, averaged 63.3 in all patient rooms, and peaked at 67.4.

Much of the noise was due to alarms and human speech. “We conclude that critically ill patients who are exposed to this sound level may be at risk for worse outcomes and delayed healing after their hospitalization,” they wrote, adding that “it is therefore reasonable to implement a system by which sound levels are reduced in patient rooms.”