The impact of poor sleep in hospital

A good night’s sleep in hospital can be hard to come by. 

And now new research out of Flinders is seeking to understand the true impact of this sleep disruption by focusing in on one of the noisiest places – the intensive care unit (ICU).

Flinders University’s Professor Peter Catcheside has been awarded a Health Seed Grant from Flinders Foundation to record overnight noise from the Flinders Medical Centre ICU and then replay it to healthy volunteers in a sleep laboratory for comparison against a quiet night.

He hopes the work could pave the way for identifying specific noises that are most problematic and develop strategies to reduce them.

“Sleep is vital for normal brain function, health, immunity and recovery from illness.”

“In hospital care, poor sleep is a leading risk factor for delirium – a serious condition potentially contributing to higher mortality – and could play a role in poorer health outcomes more generally.

“Noise is the most prominent environmental factor that can disrupt sleep in hospitals, where night-time levels can be four times higher than World Health Organisation recommendations.” Professor Catcheside explains.

Despite hospitals being well-known as noisy environments, and compelling evidence to support that sleep disruption promotes delirium, Professor Catcheside says no study has specifically examined the impact of in-hospital noise on sleep.

“This project aims to establish the effect of real-world ICU noise on sleep by applying sophisticated signal processing methods to examine what brain signal features show the greatest changes between quiet versus noisy nights,” Professor Catcheside says.

“We hope that this project could lead to improvements in health care and outcomes and have far reaching benefits for assessing sleep problems more broadly.

“By combining simplified electroencephalogram (EEG) collection methods with automated signal processing we aim to develop new, more practical and more sensitive sleep assessment methods for use in intensive care units.

“Once developed and tested, these methods could help to identify and reduce sleep problems in ICU, and could be useful in other hospital wards, aged-care settings, sleep laboratories and for in-home sleep assessment.”

The year-long study will see about 15 healthy volunteers stay overnight in the sleep laboratory for detailed sleep recordings on two separate nights, one with and one without exposure to the pre-recorded hospital noise.

EEG recordings of brain electrical activity will be assessed using conventional sleep laboratory electrodes applied to the scalp and a newer electrode recording system more practical for use in hospitals compared to traditional sleep recording methods.


Research category: Sleep Health

Project title: Establishing advanced new brain signal capture and processing methods for detecting hospital noise induced impacts on sleep and health.

Lead researcher: Professor Peter Catcheside

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