A college mate recently had to undergo a bypass operation in Singapore, after which he was shifted to the ICU. We, a bunch of anxious college mates, heard that he was recovering well but that the noises in the ICU bothered him. One of us picked up on that: How can there be noises in the ICU, which should be one of the most restful places in the hospital? That logical question went unanswered (one wag quipped, undoubtedly with pretty nurses in mind, that when the caring got too intense, some noise was inevitable), but yesterday I found the answer to the question in an excellent book I’m reading called Counting Sheep, by Paul Martin:
One of the worst places imaginable if you need a good night’s sleep is an intensive care unit (ICU). The combination of serious illness, serious drugs, constant monitoring, bright lighting, and the after effects of surgery ensure that ICU patients are often subjected to severe sleep deprivation. And yet the ICU houses the sickest people in the hospital, with the greatest need for sleep. American researchers conducted an experiment to see if implementing ‘quiet times’ during the day would help ICU patients to get more sleep. Each day for two two-hour periods, lighting levels in the unit were reduced and the staff made a concerted effort to minimise noise. The quiet-time regime worked: the patients were 60% more likely to sleep during these quiet periods than at other times of the day. More flexibility over when patients are given their medication can also help them to get more sleep.
Sadly, the apparent neglect of sleep in hospitals is another reflection of the general disregard for sleep in medicine and society as a whole. Lack of sleep really does have very little to recommend it.
Yet another classic case of modern medicine privileging technology over human needs.