How to get a good night's sleep: Earplugs in the intensive care unit ward off confusion

May 4, 2012

Patients in an intensive care unit (ICU) often become confused or delirious soon after, or within a few days of, admittance to the ICU. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal Critical Care shows that use of earplugs can result in better sleep (as reported by the patients), lower the incidence of confusion, and delay the onset of cognitive disturbances.

Patients in the ICU are thought to suffer confusion and delirium due to sensory overload. Part of this is due to the physical injuries and sensations of the patients and part due to their environment.

Sound in the ICU has been a subject of research for several years. There is contestant noise due to equipment and people coming and going. However, patients complain that it's not so much the level of noise but the interruptions due to phones ringing and people talking which is the most disturbing. Not surprisingly studies have shown that the sleep of patients in ICU is severely fragmented with a corresponding lack of slow wave and REM sleep.

While it is not practicable to have silent equipment (and patients need checking at regular intervals), researchers from the University of Antwerp and Antwerp University Hospital investigated the use of earplugs to reduce the amount of noise experienced by the patients as they slept.

As a result of this simple solution the researchers found that starting to use earplugs within the first 24 hours of entering ICU decreased the patient's risk for delirium or confusion by over 50%. They also noticed that patients sleeping with earplugs developed confusion and delirium later than patients without. After the first night more of the patients with earplugs reported a better night's sleep.

Prof Bart van Rompaey, who led this study, explained, "The greatest improvement was observed in the risk of confusion, and seems to be strongest within the first 48 hours of admittance to the ICU. is a multifactorial process and, in our study, was also influenced by age, smoking, and severity of disease. Nevertheless the beneficial effect of earplugs in the ICU, especially in the first few days, clearly demonstrates the advantage of using them. are a cheap and easy to use means of improving a patients sleep and preventing confusion."

Explore further: Patient isolation associated with hospital delirium: study

Related Stories

Patient isolation associated with hospital delirium: study

December 12, 2011
A new study finds that patients who are moved into isolation during a hospital stay are nearly twice as likely to develop delirium, a potentially dangerous change in mental status that often affects hospital patients. Patients ...

Sleep apnea puts patients at risk for delirium after surgery

March 27, 2012
An anecdotal observation of a possible link between sleep apnea and post-surgical delirium has been measured and confirmed by a team of researchers at the Duke University Medical Center.

Recommended for you

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

Best of Last Year – The top Medical Xpress articles of 2016

December 23, 2016
(Medical Xpress)—It was a big year for research involving overall health issues, starting with a team led by researchers at the UNC School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health who unearthed more evidence that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.