Views And Reviews

The intensive care unit was so noisy I couldn’t sleep

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 18 April 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2150
  1. Lisa Hinton,
  2. senior qualitative researcher,
  3. Health Experiences Research Group
  1. Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford
  1. lisa.hinton{at}

Now researching the issue, Lisa Hinton experienced the pandemonium at first hand

Patients may imagine that intensive care units (ICUs), where lifesaving high tech care is delivered to very sick people, are as quiet as a chapel. But they’re not. The World Health Organization says that noise levels in the average ICU should be no higher than in a library, at 35 dB. In reality, ICUs are as loud as a main road or a busy restaurant: one UK study recorded noise peaks above 85 dB—equivalent to a road drill—as many as 16 times an hour in an ICU.1

Several years ago I spent many weeks in one of those ICU beds. I wasn’t your typical ICU patient, who tends to be older or to be admitted after a planned procedure or an accident. In my early …

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