Shhhhh. Preterm infants can benefit from quiet times in hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), a new study says.
High noise levels are known to harm health, and infants in NICUs are especially vulnerable, so some NICUs have created quiet times to limit potentially dangerous noise levels, according to the Acoustical Society of America.
“Although the NICU noise literature dates back more than 40 years, even recent studies show that ambient NICU noise often exceeds recommended levels,” researcher Erica Ryherd said in a society news release. She’s an associate professor of architectural engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Even though there’s growing evidence that noise in neonatal wards can stress preemies, there’s little data on what works best to keep babies calm, Ryherd added.
To learn more, researchers from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Baptist Health South Florida worked with nursing staff at a number of NICUs as they created quiet time guidelines. This included limiting conversations, dimming lights and coordinating cleaning services for specific hours every afternoon and night.
For up to 18 months, the noise levels were assessed throughout the day.
The study found that certain stressful sounds got quieter, there were fewer very loud sounds, and there was more overall quiet time throughout the day.
The investigators reported that infants in the NICUs had healthier heart rates during quiet times.
Based on their findings, the researchers recommend quiet times in NICUs, along with other steps to reduce noise.
They hope their study will spark interest in how noise affects other hospital patients and the general public, including the design of public spaces to reduce the effects of loud sounds.
The study was presented Monday at the acoustical society’s annual meeting, in Louisville, Ky. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on premature babies.