Noise levels affecting children's recovery, sleep research reveals

Children losing more than an hour's sleep on hospital wards, study finds

Children are losing more than an hour's sleep on hospital wards, study finds

Picture: Alamy

Children are struggling with poor sleep on hospital wards affecting their recovery, pain tolerance and behaviour, research suggests.

A study at Southampton Children’s Hospital compared the sleep of 46 children, with an average age of nine, and 16 mothers across wards and at home.

Exceeding maximum noise levels

Children and their parents lost more than one hour’s sleep during hospital admissions and noise levels at night exceeded the maximum limit of 30 decibels recommended by the World Health Organization.

The average sound level recorded on hospital wards was 48.24 decibels, but reached 50.35 decibels for beds in open bays, with children sleeping on average for 63 fewer minutes a night while their mothers got 72 fewer minutes.

‘Despite 150 years of medical progress we have forgotten the basic lessons of patient care’

This compared to noise levels recorded in the children’s bedrooms of 34.7 decibels, researchers found.

The authors of the study, which was carried out between 2012 and 2014, wrote: ‘Despite 150 years of medical progress we have forgotten the basic lessons of patient care.’

They suggest that sleep is one aspect of care that can be freely delivered and future research should ‘evaluate interventions which promote sleep for children and parents alike’.

Sleep improvement programme

The study, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood today, was led by University of Southampton associate professor in child health Catherine Hill.

Dr Hill launched the Sleep for Health in Hospital (SHH) programme, to improve the sleep environment for young patients and their parents.

The programme is now being rolled out across England, through the Paediatric Innovation and Research Network and Dr Hill and her team provide training workshops for staff.

SSH involves lights being dimmed at 8pm and a flag raised on each ward to remind everyone about bedtime, the end of visiting hours for the day and the need to switch off electronic entertainment or use headphones.

‘Previous research has indicated that children’s cancer and intensive care wards are noisy at night, but this is the first time we have established the same situation on general medical wards,’ said Dr Hill.

 ‘When children lose sleep in hospital they have a lower pain threshold, are more emotional and may have lowered immune defences, so this is an issue we need to address.’

Read the sleep research paper

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