How Hospital Noise Hampers Healing

If you're recovering from a major illness or surgery, you need as much rest as you can get. Those lucky enough to recuperate at home will probably find the quiet conducive to healing. But those stuck in the hospital are not so fortunate.

A recent small study conducted by experts at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found that hospital noise can be a significant disrupter of crucial rest. Twelve healthy participants spent three days in a monitored sleep lab. On the first night they were allowed to sleep without being disturbed. On the next two nights they were subjected to a variety of noises—people talking, ice machines crunching, toilets flushing, laundry carts rumbling, phones ringing, cars driving by outside, and medical-equipment alarms ringing.

Not surprisingly, the noise disturbed the study subjects much of the time as evidenced by brain waves and heart rates. But what was interesting was that of all sounds, electronic ones such as pump alarms and phones were the most disruptive, even when they were set at a very low volume. Since a majority of hospital noises are of the electronic kind, the study results have profound implications for the health and recovery of hospital patients. While increased brain activity and heart rate are unlikely to harm a young, healthy person such as those in the study, hospital patients are likelier to be older and sicker and therefore more vulnerable to the destructive effects of noise pollution.

If you or a loved one are admitted to the hospital, take steps to minimize disruptive noises. Ask hospital staff if alarms and phone ringers can be turned down and if voices can be kept quieter in hallways. If doctors allow them, a simple pair of earplugs can help patients get a good night's sleep. Or try a white-noise machine to block out unwanted sounds.




Brigham and Women's Hospital. "Study Finds Common Hospital Noises Disrupt Sleep, Affect Heart Function." Web. 13 July 2012.

National Sleep Foundation. "The Sleep Environment." Web.