The Sounds and Sleeplessness in the ICU--Part II

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Earlier this week I covered a new study that points to the disturbing effects (literally) of noise pollution in intensive care units. The second half of the article discussed several methods to reduce noise and their effectiveness.

Some of the methods examined in the study to reduce such noise included the following:

  • Earplugs/earmuffs on patients (self-explanatory)
  • Behavioral modifications: Enforcing stricter rules among hospital staff so they are more aware of how much noise they are making. This is the "tone it down!" strategy, which entails establishing set quiet times during which the ambient light is lowered, alarms are cut down in intensity, and phones, televisions, and radios are turned off
  • Sound masking: The use of white noise machines to neutralize certain noises.
  • Acoustic absorption: The use of certain materials like foam to dampen noise levels.

Not surprisingly, all four strategies to lower the noise proved effective. But surprisingly, sound masking beat out the sound-absorbing treatment. That's good news for people who want to take a study like this and apply it to their bedroom setting at home. Far from an ICU, yes, but the two places share much in common.

It helps to think of your own bedroom as sanctuary for recovery much like an ICU. Applying these techniques at home can be equally as effective, if not more so since you're not simultaneously battling serious health challenges (hopefully!). While I don't expect you to install sound absorbers in your walls, the top three ideas are quite practical:

  • Earplugs: these are inexpensive and available at most drug stores. I like the foam ones that expand in your ear canal.
  • Behavioral modifications: evict the gadgets and machines from you room; if a television is a must, set boundaries so you're not letting it encroach on your bedtime turf. Have a "lights-off" time set (and don't fall asleep with the TV still on!-there are TV timers on most TVs today.)
  • Sound masking: white noise machines can be incredibly powerful in axing out any background noise. Many clock-radios have built-in white noise makers, or you can try an oscillating fan. Some find the rhythmic beat of a fan to be very calming and "white-noise"-like.

My hope is that hospitals heed the lessons from studies like this one, and learn how to minimize unnecessary noise to maximize the very purpose those facilities serve--to spur the healing process and foster recuperation. Which is exactly what your bedroom is supposed to do. The ICU is a special place. And so is your bedroom.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM

The Sleep Doctor

This sleep article is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.