Ever heard the fairy tale when you've been in the hospital that being there will help you to rest and recover? Did you ever find that to be true?
I remember being told this after having a baby, and I wondered at the time why someone would say that. I was eager to get back home to a household of small children, knowing I would get more and better rest there than in the hospital.
A study from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Cambridge Health Alliance, struck a chord with me for this reason.
Research indicated that the usual noises in a hospital could be disruptive to sleep, possibly having a less than restful effect on cardiovascular and brain activity.
Orfeu Buxton, PhD, BWH Division of Sleep Medicine, co-lead study author, used the term "noise-polluted" in describing a hospital setting.
Twelve healthy participants took part in a three-day study in a sleep laboratory. Everyone slept well the first night.
During the other two nights, 14 recorded sounds -- an intravenous alarm, a helicopter, an ice machine, a telephone, outside traffic and voices in the hallway-- were allowed to infiltrate their sleep. These sounds got progressively louder throughout particular stages of sleep.
Loud noises were disruptive. No surprise there. However, it was also found that some sounds were even more disruptive even when they were very quiet. This was the case with electronic sounds.
It was seen that the stage of sleep played a part in determining which aspects of sound made an impression on the sleeper as well.
For instance, the type of sound made the most impact on those in non-rapid eye movement or NREM sleep. Volume of sound had the greatest effect during rapid eye movement or REM sleep.
Heart rate was affected by noise, even sounds that are so low as to be below conscious awareness. Heart rate was only mildly affected, but researchers speculate that disruptions that happen repeatedly as is the case in a hospital, can be a risk factor for people who are already at less than optimal health.