How to Sleep Better in the Hospital

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Research has found hospital stays can disrupt sleep due to a number of factors including anxiety, pain, the hospital environment, and the timing of nursing tasks. Since sleep is an important component of health and recovery, an article published in the journal Nursing Standard outlined how to promote sleep in hospitalized patients.

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Make sure you are comfortable

It’s important to make sure pillows are in the right position and bed linen and bedclothes are comfortable. Although you may have little control over bed linen, bringing your own pillow may be helpful. You may also be able to wear your own pajamas. If you’re having trouble getting into a comfortable sleeping position, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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Warm drinks may help

The article suggested that warm drinks may help when it comes to falling asleep in a hospital environment. It’s worth remembering that caffeinated drinks are best avoided close to bedtime and that if drinking liquids at night makes you wake to use the bathroom, you may want to skip this tip!

pitcher of ice water on hospital tray

Keep a cold drink close by

Waking during the night with a chronic thirst isn’t pleasant at the best of times, but when you’re in hospital this can be even more of an inconvenience. Try to make sure there is a drink within reach should you wake feeling thirsty during the night.

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Talk about pain relief

If pain is making it difficult to sleep, don’t be afraid to speak up. Talk to your doctor or a nurse about any pain you are experiencing and pain relief options. You should also discuss the effect any prescribed medications may have on your sleep.

couple talking to doctor in hospital image

Discuss environmental concerns

If your room is too bright or noisy, discuss your concerns with your doctor or a nurse — or ask a friend or family member to do this for you. Hospital staff should be able to dim lights and may be able reduce the noise of medical equipment if it is disrupting your sleep. If you get too cold, be sure to ask for extra blankets. Keeping your curtain or door closed (if appropriate) can also help reduce disturbances.

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Ask about the timing of medical interventions

If you are being frequently awoken at night for medical interventions, ask if any of these can be put off until morning or undertaken during the day. The hospital may be able to group together interventions that take place at night in order to prevent repeated awakenings — but you won’t know unless you ask.

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Have an appropriate schedule for visitors

It can be difficult to sleep when friends and family are around. Ask that no visitors are scheduled late in the evening or early in the morning. Not only can this help prevent overstimulation in the evening, it can also reduce any pressure you may place on yourself to fall asleep in order to wake at a certain time for a morning visitor.

man reading in hospital bed

Keep yourself occupied during the day

If possible, try to keep yourself busy during the day to avoid the temptation to spend the day napping. The more you sleep during the day, the less pressure to sleep there will be come bedtime. Walking around the ward, eating in the cafeteria and reading are all potential options.

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Consider other patients

Just as other patients can make sleep more difficult for you, consider your impact on their sleep, too. Switch off your cellphone or switch it to silent mode in the evenings, use headphones when listening to music, and try to avoid using light emitting devices such as tablets at night. If you are in a shared room and other patients are keeping you awake, ask if a private room is available.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.