What hospitals can do to avoid disrupting patients' sleep

Although physicians and nurses often have to wake patients at odd hours for medication and tests, hospitals can employ strategies that minimize patient sleep disruptions that hinder recovery, The New York Times reports.

Peter Ubel, MD, a physician with Duke University in Durham, N.C., recognizes the problem of hospital sleep disruption as both a physician and patient. His sleep was interrupted several times by machines beeping and lab tests after he spent a night in the hospital recovering from surgery in 2013.

"Not an hour went by without some kind of disruption," Dr. Ubel recalled. "It's a terrible way to start recovery."

Short sleep durations are linked to reduced immune functiondeliriumhypertension and mood disorders. Hospital sleep disruptions may also contribute to posthospital syndrome, when patients face health problems after their discharge that are unrelated to their initial hospitalization.

Providers often turn to sedatives to help patients deal with the stresses of a hospital stay, but hospitals could make their environments more conducive to sleep to curb the risks these powerful drugs present, Dr. Ubel said.

Environmental changes include hospital workers coordinating to ensure one sleep disruption serves multiple needs, such as having a blood draw and a vitals check at the same time as opposed to two hours apart.

Staff could also let patients' needs guide sleep interruption schedules — if a patient can go six or eight hours without a vitals check, staff could ensure they aren't doing that check once every four hours.

The report highlighted several hospitals with initiatives to let patients get more rest:

  • Yale New Haven (Conn.) Hospital has encouraged nurses to alter medication schedules to minimize sleep disruptions and to check off other tasks before patients go to bed.

  • Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital installed rubber floors in some areas to reduce noise.

  • Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor is working to to reduce noise at night by changing when floors are cleaned and installing sound-absorbing tiles.

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