Sleep Quality in Intensive Care Units (ICU)

Florence Cardinal Health Guide
  • For a patient to heal from illness or injury, he or she needs restful sleep. A quiet, dimly lit room promotes sleep. Yet, the ICU ward of a busy hospital is seldom quiet or dimly lit.


    An article in USA today advises: "Sleep deprivation can result in a decreased production of growth hormone needed for healing." In the ICU (intensive care unit) and, for that matter, most hospital wards, patients are disturbed by flashing lights, ringing phones, staff talking, and all the other hospital noises.


    Doctors and nurses are aware of this problem and are seeking out ways to add to patient comfort, allowing them to get the hours of sleep they need. The ICU is the most critical ward. Many of the patients there need more than surgery and medicine. They need healing sleep to help nurse them back to health.

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    Some medications only add to the problem. After surgery last summer, I was on morphine. I slept, but it wasn't a peaceful sleep. I tossed and turned during terrifying nightmares and weird hallucinations.


    It is often necessary for staff to keep a close eye on ICU patients, checking them every two or three hours. Often, when patients return home, they sleep more than is normal for them as they try to catch up on the sleep they missed in the hospital. Another problem with frequent awakenings and disturbed sleep - the patient is never asleep long enough to drop off into REM  and deep sleep.


    With the realization that ICU lights and noise disturbed patients' sleep, doctors and nurses sought ways to minimize the problem. Soft music is sometimes piped into the rooms to muffle the buzzers and ringing phones. Gentle massage and back rubs help people to relax and fall asleep.


    Eye masks supply needed darkness and earplugs keep out the noise. Mild sleeping pills help some patients to fall asleep.


    Consideration for the patients in ICU or other wards of the hospital has staff doing all they can to promote sleep and help those who are injured or ill heal more quickly, and that includes assuring that they get proper sleep.


Published On: February 11, 2008