And, though few studies specifically link quality of shut-eye and patient outcomes, doctors interviewed said the connection is obvious: Patients need sleep. If they get more of it, they’re likely to recover faster.
Traditionally, hospitals have scheduled a number of nighttime activities around health professionals’ needs—aligning them with shift changes, or updating patient’s vital signs so the information is available when doctors make early morning rounds. Both the sickest patients and those in less-serious condition might get the same number of check-ins. In some cases, that can mean patients are being disturbed almost every hour, whether medically necessary or not.
“The reality for many, many patients is they’re woken up multiple times for things that are not strictly medically necessary, or … multiple times for the convenience of staff,” said Susan Frampton, the president of Planetree, a nonprofit organization that encourages health systems to consider patient needs when designing care.
Changing that “seems like kind of easy, low-hanging fruit,” said Margaret Pisani, an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine. She is working with other staff at the Yale hospital to reduce unnecessary wake-ups, using strategies like letting nurses re-time when they give medicines to better match patient sleep schedules, changing when floors are washed, or giving nurses checklists of things that can and should be taken care of before 11 p.m.
Not only is the push for better patient sleep part of a larger drive to improve how hospitals take care of their patients, but it is fueled in part by measures in the 2010 health law tying some Medicare payments to patient-approval scores. As more hospitals try to improve those numbers, experts said, more will likely home in on improving chances for a good night’s sleep.
“There’s a movement toward patient-centered care, and this is definitely a part of it,” said Melissa Bartick, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
That focus makes sense, since federal patient-approval surveys specifically ask about nighttime noise levels. A number of hospitals initially struggled to get good scores on that, said Richard Evans, the chief experience officer at the Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital.
His hospital instituted quiet hours—a couple of hours in the afternoon and between six and eight hours at night, depending on the hospital unit, in which lights are turned low and staff encouraged to reduce their noise levels. It also encourages staff members to consider whether patients really need particular care at night before waking them. “We’re trying to [increase awareness] that patients need to rest, and we need to structure our care as much as possible to allow that to happen.”
It’s hard to delineate the degree to which such efforts have affected patient-approval scores, Evans said. Anecdotally, though, patients have expressed appreciation, he added.