Getting the recommended eight hours of sleep every night can be challenging in a hospital setting. With the conversations between on-duty doctors and nurses, fluorescent lights, and being woken for things like vital checks and bloodwork, it is a wonder that patients get any sleep at all. However, with research showing a strong link between sleep and good health, hospitals are beginning to rethink how they operate at night.

Valley Sleep Center Blog: Hospitals Begin to Recognize the Healing Powers of Sleep

“Though the American Hospital Association (AHA) doesn’t formally track how many hospitals are reviewing their patient-sleep policies, they are aware a number are trying to do better,” said Jennifer Schleman, an AHA spokeswoman.

Even though there are only a few studies that specifically link quality sleep to better patient outcomes, doctors are seeing the connection. Doctors see first-hand that when a patient gets more sleep, they recover faster. “In addition to leaving patients cranky, lack of sleep can slow recovery and trigger the confusion of delirium, which can lead to longer hospital stays and even dementia,” says Margaret Pisani, a pulmonary critical care doctor at Yale University School of Medicine. She continues to say that lack of sleep is what patients complain about the most during a hospital stay.

In order to help solve the sleep problem, some hospitals have started to:

  • Enforce “quiet hours” for a couple of hours in the afternoon and for six to eight hours at night, depending on the hospital unit
  • Train doctors and nurses to use hushed voices and to keep conversations away from patients’ rooms, mainly during quiet hours
  • Keep lights turned low during quiet hours
  • Group things like overnight blood draws, vital checks and medication doses into one visit, if possible, to limit the amount of interruptions
  • Offer patients sleeping tools like white noise machines and/or sleep masks to promote a calm sleep environment
  • Some hospitals have even started offering calming lavender room spray and soothing herbal teas before bed

Finding the right balance between allowing patients to get the sleep they need and getting important tests and medications done is a challenge. Patients in the ICU generally need more attention more frequently, and some tests and meds just can’t wait- even in the night. Yet, they also need their sleep. Some patients, in less critical conditions, though, are woken up multiple times in the night for things that are not immediately necessary or multiple times solely for the convenience of the staff. The hope is that grouping together some of these tasks will make for less interruptions, and better rest for the patient. Melissa Bartick, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School says, “There’s a movement toward patient-centered care, and this (better sleep) is definitely a part of it.”

Hopes are, now that sleep is being recognized as a vital tool in the healing process, more and more hospitals will board the wagon and work towards allowing patients’ the restorative rest they so desperately need.