Adverse environmental conditions in the respiratory and medical ICU settings

Chest. 1994 Apr;105(4):1211-6. doi: 10.1378/chest.105.4.1211.


Sleep deprivation and fragmentation occurring in the hospital setting may have a negative impact on the respiratory system by decreasing respiratory muscle function and ventilatory response to CO2. Sleep deprivation in a patient with respiratory failure may, therefore, impair recovery and weaning from mechanical ventilation. We postulate that light, sound, and interruption levels in a weaning unit are major factors resulting in sleep disorders and possibly circadian rhythm disruption. As an initial test of this hypothesis, we sampled interruption levels and continuously monitored light and sound levels for a minimum of seven consecutive days in a medical ICU, a multiple bed respiratory care unit (RCU) room, a single-bed RCU room, and a private room. Light levels in all areas maintained a day-night rhythm, with peak levels dependent on window orientation and shading. Peak sound levels were extremely high in all areas representing values significantly higher than those recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency as acceptable for a hospital environment. The number of sound peaks greater than 80 decibels, which may result in sleep arousals, was especially high in the intensive and respiratory care areas, but did show a day-night rhythm in all settings. Patient interruptions tended to be erratic, leaving little time for condensed sleep. We conclude that the potential for environmentally induced sleep disruption is high in all areas, but especially high in the intensive and respiratory care areas where the negative consequences may be the most severe.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Lighting*
  • Noise*
  • Sleep Deprivation