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Project tackles night time noise on children's wards

A pioneering project to help children get a better night’s sleep on wards has been launched at Southampton Children’s Hospital.
Sleeping child

A pioneering project to help children get a better nights sleep on wards has been launched at Southampton Childrens Hospital.

The Southampton Sleep for Health in Hospital (SSHH!) programme is believed by the trust to be the first of its kind in the UK.

The project aims to fundamentally change the ward culture to respect childrens sleep, said Dr Catherine Hill, a consultant in paediatric sleep medicine, who is leading the programme.

Reducing noise at night is an NHS quality indicator but hospitals have notoriously bad sleep environments and many fail to accurately monitor or address this common source of complaint.

Children may be anxious and in pain, but face regular sleep disruption from noise, nursing and medical care and hospital routines and much of that is preventable.

Ahead of the SSHH! programme, Dr Hill conducted a research

A pioneering project to help children get a better night’s sleep on wards has been launched at Southampton Children’s Hospital.

The Southampton Sleep for Health in Hospital (SSHH!) programme is believed by the trust to be the first of its kind in the UK.

Sleeping child
Picture: iStock

The project aims to fundamentally change the ward culture to respect children’s sleep, said Dr Catherine Hill, a consultant in paediatric sleep medicine, who is leading the programme.

‘Reducing noise at night is an NHS quality indicator but hospitals have notoriously bad sleep environments and many fail to accurately monitor or address this common source of complaint.

‘Children may be anxious and in pain, but face regular sleep disruption from noise, nursing and medical care and hospital routines and much of that is preventable.’

Ahead of the SSHH! programme, Dr Hill conducted a research study at Southampton Children’s Hospital which found that both children and their parents slept on average an hour less in hospital compared to their normal night's sleep at home – largely due to noise.

Higher noise pollution

Despite World Health Organisation recommendations of an average sound level of 30 decibels (dB) in hospitals at night – equivalent to a quiet conversation – Dr Hill’s research found the average level was much higher and, at times, peak levels were recorded equal to the sound of a vacuum cleaner.

‘We all feel out of sorts after a bad night’s sleep but when children lose sleep in hospital they have a lower pain threshold, are more emotional and may have lowered immune defences – all compelling reasons why sleep should be protected,’ she said.

While adults at the trust are offered decaffeinated bedtime drinks, ear plugs and eye shades the project is introducing more imaginative approaches for children.

These include the introduction of an ‘eight is late’ rule, which will see lights 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.

‘Additionally, each child will have a sign on their bed reminding staff and visitors of their usual bedtime and staff will use red torches to check on children at night rather than bright white lights,’ she explained.

The project has already been piloted successfully in the children’s cancer ward and is now being rolled-out more widely across the children’s hospital.

Dr Hill added: ‘We aim to take healthy sleep in hospital for young patients beyond a list of recommendations to fundamental culture change and have a transferable programme that can be adopted by children’s wards nationwide.’

A Nursing Standard survey carried out earlier this year revealed noise was still an issue on adult inpatient wards, with some trusts tackling the problem with soft-closing bins and sleep kits for patients.


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