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You would think that hospitals would recognize how important sleep is to a patient's recovery and would take steps to keep the noise down so people can rest.
Noisy hospital rooms are so pervasive, researchers at the University of Chicago decided to find out if patients' sleep was suffering because of it.
To no one's surprise, they found that hospital room noise levels are well above recommended levels and can spike to nearly that of a chainsaw.
"The hospital environment is certainly not a restful environment," lead author Vineet Arora, M.D., told Reuters Health.
The study, published last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine, looked at 100 adult patients and found that noise levels in their rooms at night tended to be somewhat lower than during the day, but they almost always exceeded recommendations for average and maximum noise level.
According to World Health Organization recommendations, hospital room noise levels shouldn't get above 30 to 40 decibels, but the Chicago researchers reported that the average noise level in patients' rooms was close to 50 decibels, and sometimes spiked as high as 80 decibels -- almost as loud as a chainsaw, they said.
Much of that extra noise was due to talking between doctors and nurses, but the loudest interruptions were from alarms and intercoms, Arora said.
The researchers found that in general, patients slept more than an hour less in the hospital than they'd reported sleeping at home, and often had restless, poor-quality sleep.
"One of the most common complaints that patients will report is that they had a difficult night sleeping," a factor that could delay their recovery, Arora said.
And the problem is not getting better. In 2005, Ilene Busch-Vishniac, an acoustical scientist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, analyzed recordings collected at dozens of hospitals around the world and found that hospital noise levels were about three or four times higher than they were in 1960.
Another sleep expert suggested that hospital patients wear noise-cancelling headphones in order to get some rest.
Unfortunately, the noise problem for recovering patients is a nothing new.
Pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale, writing in 1860, described unnecessary noise as "the most cruel absence of care which can be inflicted either on sick or well."
In other health news:
Aging of the eyes blamed for range of health woes. A new body of research on the aging eye finds that the gradual yellowing of the lens and narrowing of the pupil as the eye ages contributes to a wide range of health problems, the New York Times reports. "We believe the effect is huge and that it's just beginning to be recognized as a problem," says one eye researcher.
Diet soda and heart attack risk. Older adults who drank diet soda every day were 44 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack, according to a new study. However, researchers caution that this does not prove sugar-free drinks are to blame -- it could be that those who drink them daily tend to have other unhealthy habits.
Photo credit: heart-valve-surgery.com