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TV presents one picture of an intensive care unit (ICU) – dimmed lights, hushed voices and softly bleeping machines. The reality is that it's more like a busy restaurant and frequently it's noisy enough to compete with a pneumatic drill. That's why Oxford University researchers have been trying to make intensive care noise less intensive.

Professor Duncan Young from Oxford's Kadoorie Centre for Critical Care Research and Education said: 'High levels of noise make it harder to sleep, sleep deprivation leads to confusion, and confusion is thought to complicate the healing process and slow recovery.

'Yet our research found that during the day, noise levels in an ICU are equivalent to those of a busy restaurant. While things are quieter at night, we still found that sounds louder than 85 decibels – around the level of a road drill – were happening up to 16 times an hour.'

Concern that intensive care noise was delaying recovery led to a £280,000 grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), to understand the noise issues and then work to reduce them.

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