March 2017 Newsletter: Intensively Sleeping

Imagine you find yourself as a patient in a major hospital ICU. Since your arrival, noise has made it impossible to sleep for more than a few minutes – constant beeps and alarms from medical support and chatter from the nurses’ station in the corridor.  Your nurse is very kind and asks if you are comfortable. You hesitate but then confide that with all this noise, it’s impossible to sleep.  Read on to learn more about keeping the peace in hospitals.

Conversations between doctors and nurses are and always will be part of hospital activities.  This is obviously necessary for the health and welfare of patients.  But there are two factors that can help reduce sound levels. These involve modifications that can mitigate sound propagation and encourage healthcare workers to speak more softly.

Modification I – Mounting sound absorptive materials on walls and ceilings around nurses’ stations will reduce sound propagating down corridors.

Modification II – When people are close to highly sound absorptive surfaces, they tend talk more softly. Based on the Lombard reflex, everyone adjusts the level of their voice in relation to the ambient sound level they perceive around them.

Here’s what happens: People talking near hard surfaces hear ambient sound as being louder, which causes them to talk louder; this is a common phenomena in restaurants. People talking near highly absorbent surfaces tend to talk more softly. It is proven that nurses’ stations and corridors treated with very high absorption materials reduce sound transmission throughout the floor.

High absorption can be provided by polyester fiber covered by polyester fabric. Images printed from photos, graphics or colors provide unlimited choices of decorative possibilities.  But the biggest stumbling block to implementing these materials in hospitals is the potential for bacterial growth in the panels, which are referred to as soft surface textiles.  Hospital uniforms, gowns, masks, patient room curtains, linens and towels are also soft surface textiles, but are acceptable in these facilities because they are often infused with permanent antimicrobial finishes.

High absorption acoustic panels installed on walls and ceilings are less likely to come in direct contact with bacteria, yet it is still important that they are treated with antimicrobial growth agents.  Ideally, the polyester materials would be pretreated with biocides or chemically synthesized antimicrobial agents to control bacteria, fungi, mold, mildew, and algae. These biocides and agents include chitosan-triclosan, PHMB, quaternary ammonium salts, organosilicon or nanotechnological compounds, and metals such as silver and copper.

An example of a product is X-STATIC® antimicrobial technology, which uses pure metallic silver permanently bonded to the surface of polyester. It doesn’t change the properties of the underlying material and has been used in a variety of textiles for its antimicrobial properties since 1999. The antimicrobial properties of silver have been known to cultures around the world for many centuries and are active for the life of the product.

The impact of noise on sleep quality in medical facilities can be improved through the use of absorptive materials around nurses’ stations, and the technology exists to create products that can be safely used in these environments.  A good night’s sleep is the best medicine.

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