Skip to main content

All Access Subscription

Get unlimited access to our full publication and article library.

Get Access Now

Interested in Group Sales? Learn more

Things That Go Beep in the Night: How to Reduce Hospital Noise

ANN ARBOR, MI – For you and many other hospital professionals, the beeps of multiple monitors, squawks of paging systems and squeaks of wheelchairs, gurneys and carts are white noise. You ceased to notice them years ago.

For patients, however, the racket can make the difference between a therapeutic night’s sleep and a fitful rest.

To remedy that, a new initiative at the University of Michigan Health System, described recently in an article published online by BMJ Quality, used sound panels as a test to make hospitals quieter.

During a pilot study, researchers strategically placed sound acoustic panels to help diffuse sound in the hallways around patient rooms. While modest, the 3-4 sound decibel drop is recognizable to the human ear and consistent with a fall in noise generated by a car slowing down from 80 mph to 60, according to the article.

"In hospital environments where noise levels are often double what they should be according to the World Health Organization's standard decibel guidelines for patient rooms, the difference is significant," explained co-author Mojtaba Navvab, PhD, associate professor of architecture and design at the University of Michigan.

Similar to methods used at recording studios, rehearsal rooms and concert halls to control sound, four custom panels, covered in cones and made with sound-absorbing material, were installed for three days in the walls and ceilings of a cardiovascular care unit.

While sound levels remained at 60 decibels during the daytime, they dropped to 57 decibels at night, according to study results.

"This architectural design could complement on-going strategies for addressing noise," co-author Peter M. Farrehi, MD, said. “The panels help diffuse sound, rather than attempt to eliminate the sounds generated in a modern hospital environment."

In addition to the sound patterns, the hospitals provide complimentary ear buds, headphones and earplugs for patients and their families; require that hallway conversation, in person and cellphone, is kept to a minimum, especially at night; enforce quiet hours in all inpatient areas and encourage that volumes on cell phones, televisions, radios, pagers and other devices be turned down and pagers set to vibrate when medically appropriate.

The hospitals also:

  • coordinate care to reduce unnecessary entry into patient rooms during quiet hours;
  • remind staff to use quiet voices and behaviors in the patient care setting;
  • require that doors be closed quietly;
  • provide a "white noise" TV channel in all patient rooms;
  • encourage staffers to wear soft sole shoes;
  • use a dedicated system to have noisy carts, doors and other items repaired, and
  • schedule floor cleaning times that don't conflict with nighttime resting hours.

Researchers also have employed devices to track noise levels in some patient rooms.