Hospitals are notorious for spreading infections, and this month we were reminded of another health hazard related to spending time in the hospital: getting little sleep.
A new study on how ICU patients in particular don’t get good restorative sleep has been making waves in the main news circles. While patients may look like they are sleeping (or at least trying with all their sickly might), they are not, in fact, sleeping well or getting the restorative sleep they need to heal quickly. Surprisingly, this study is one of the first to examine the sleep patterns of surgical and trauma patients.
The culprit? Constant disruptions by nurses and other hospital personnel that put a damper on a good night’s sleep. The study, which monitored the sleep patterns of 16 patients who had suffered traumatic injuries or had abdominal surgery, showed that they had fragmented and “superficial” sleep.
More than anything, this news (which isn’t really news at all; anyone who has ever spent any time in a hospital—be it the ICU or a private room—can attest to the sleep-unfriendly environment) is a call to action. Restful sleep is an imperative in the rehabilitation of a body injured or sick. It’s what allows our cells to repair and replenish themselves, and it’s critical to a strong immune system. If I were in an ICU, I’d want to do everything possible to preserve the integrity of my immune system and bounce back to normal life ASAP. Wouldn’t you?
The time has come for hospitals to consider how they are—or are not—helping to support restful sleep among patients, which in turn may affect recovery rates and length of stays. I’d love to see changes in hospital policies that reflect this study’s underlying lessons. After all, we live in an age when health care costs continue to skyrocket. It could cost little, if anything, to prioritize sleep in a hospital setting. A few strategies to limit disruptions may actually afford hospitals the biggest bang for their proverbial buck.
And when a doctor prescribes bed rest (that is, sleep) for a quick and successful recovery, he can really mean it. You won’t have to check out early (although there’s something to be said for recovering in your own bed, but that’s another story…).