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Professor Duncan Young has been awarded £280,000 by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to look at the problem of noise levels and sleep in the intensive care unit.

Noise and activity levels in hospital wards are known to be high. This can make it hard for patients to sleep. Without enough sleep patients can become very confused and this might slow the healing process and prevent patients from going home sooner. 

The Kadoorie Centre Critical Care Research Group, led by Professor Young, has already shown that noise levels in local intensive care units are a lot higher than the World Health Organisation recommends, and that this is not unusual. During the day most hospital wards are about as loud as a busy office. Although it is quieter overnight, it is still louder than most people expect it to be. Recordings made last year include peak sounds over 85dB (about the level of a road drill) up to 16 times per hour overnight.

Earplugs and eye masks are one way to help patients sleep but Professor Young and his team are looking at other ways as well. Over the next few months they will be talking to patients, their visitors, and staff to find out what disturbs patients the most. They will use this information to help a local group of staff and patients design changes which will lower noise levels and improve sleep. The team hopes better sleep will mean that fewer patients experience confusion during their stay in hospital. These changes will then be tested in the adult intensive care unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The team expect to have results by the middle of 2017.

The research grant has been made available by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Research for Patient Benefit Programme. This is a national programme which aims to generate high quality research for the benefit of users of the NHS in England. The project is also supported by the University of Oxford, the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, and the NIHR Clinical Research Network.
The noise level results from last year were published online in Critical Care.

For more information please contact the research office on