At home, parents try to keep their children on a regular sleep schedule, with the evening bedtime transition marked by rituals like reading stories, flipping on night-lights and getting tucked in with favorite stuffed animals.
But that difference between night and day blurs in hospitals—making it more difficult for young patients to rest when they need it the most.
Between the fluorescent lights, the chatter of on-duty doctors and nurses, and being roused for things like baths and vitals checks, getting eight hours of shut-eye is challenging. So now, with research increasingly highlighting the link between sleep and good health, children’s hospitals are rethinking just how they work at night.
“If we’re going to try to heal kids, we need to try to have them do the one thing that’s so important for their brain development. And that’s optimizing their sleep,” said Sapna Kudchadkar, an assistant professor of anesthesiology, critical care and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. She launched an initiative to improve sleep in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit a year ago.
Children’s hospitals are now adopting some of the strategies used to foster better sleep at hospitals serving adults. For example, some are enforcing quiet hours after dark, clustering things like overnight blood draws and medication doses to minimize interruptions, and bringing in tools like white noise machines to promote a soothing environment.