Hospitals work on allowing patients to actually sleep

Hospitals are reviewing their patient-sleep policies and starting to make changes.

Story highlights

  • Many patients are woken up multiple times for things that are not strictly medically necessary
  • Patients need sleep, doctors say; If they get more of it, they're likely to recover faster
  • Hospitals are reviewing their patient-sleep policies and starting to make changes

It's a common complaint — if you spend a night in the hospital, you probably won't get much sleep. There's the noise. There's the bright fluorescent hallway light. And there's the unending barrage of nighttime interruptions: vitals checks, medication administration, blood draws and the rest.

Peter Ubel, a physician and a professor at Duke University's business school, has studied the rational and irrational forces that affect health. But he was surprised when hospitalized at Duke -- in 2013 to get a small tumor removed -- at how difficult it was to sleep. "There was no coordination," he said. "One person would be in charge of measuring my blood pressure. Another would come in when the alarm went off, and they never thought, 'Gee if the alarm goes off, I should also do blood pressure.'"
"From a patient perspective," he added, "you're sitting there going, 'What the heck?'"
    As hospitals chase better patient ratings and health outcomes, an increasing number are rethinking how they function at night — in some cases reducing nighttime check-ins or trying to better coordinate medicines — so that more patients can sleep relatively uninterrupted.
    The American Hospital Association doesn't formally track how many hospitals are reviewing their patient-sleep policies, though it's aware a number are trying to do better, said Jennifer Schleman, an AHA spokeswoman.