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Hospital noise levels prevent ‘good sleep’

03-12-2009

Noise levels in hospital wards across the UK are exceeding acceptable limits and delaying patient recovery by preventing good quality sleep, according to two new studies published this week. The investigations, carried out independently at NHS hospitals in Newcastle upon Tyne and Taunton, found regular noise levels of between 60dBs and 90dBs on wards, far in excess of the World Health Organisation’s 35dBs recommendation for patient exposure. The reports describe 35dBs as the equivalent to a loud whisper, and 100dBs as the same level as a lawnmower.

In order for most people to get a good night’s sleep, overall noise levels should not exceed 30dBs and any individual ‘noise event’ throughout the night should not exceed 45dBs. Regularly experiencing noise levels above these volumes results in fragmented and poor quality sleep, and the physical and mental knock-on effects that this has.

“Hospitals can be very noisy places,” said lead author Annette Richardson, a nurse consultant at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. “Dropping a stainless steel bowl create 108dBs, which is more than the 100 dBs from a nearby car horn or chainsaw.”

Staff at the hospitals agreed to adopt some simple measures to reduce noise levels on the ward such as wearing soft-soled shoes, using quiet closing bins and turning mobile phones to vibrate mode during the night, which in the case of the Newcastle hospital resulted in reducing ‘peak’ noise levels by 20%.

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