Quieter NICUs have better outcomes: Infants’ heart rates are stronger and healthier when there is less noise and dimmer lights, study finds
- Researchers implemented quiet time hours in NICUs with guidelines such as lowering the lights and reducing conversations
- During these hours, the heart rates of NICU infants were healthier and stronger
- The World Health Organization has called noise pollution a pressing health concern, second only to air pollution
- Studies have found it can cause stress and sleep problems, memory issues and can even make us fat
Quieter neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) may result in better outcomes for infants, a new study claims.
Researchers say during hours when conversations were reduced and lights were dimmed, infants’ heart rates were healthier and stronger.
According to the World Health Organization, noise pollution is one of the most pressing threats to public health – second only to air pollution – and is linked to several health problems.
The team, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says implementing quiet time in NICUs can make it easier for premature babies to transition to life outside of the womb, while also lowering the risk of disease.
A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has found implementing ‘quiet time’ hours in NICUs resulted in infants having healthier and stronger heart rates (file image)
Constant exposure to noise has been linked to a number of health concerns. It has been found to raise the body’s stress levels, disrupt sleep and affect productivity.
Several studies have shown that children growing up with aircraft or traffic noise are significantly behind their peers with reading, language skills and memory.
This is because too much of the stress hormone cortisol in the body stops the prefrontal cortex – the brain’s planning center – from working properly, which makes it harder to think and retain information.
And according to one Swedish study in 2015, every five-decibel increase in noise above 45 decibels (the level of low traffic) corresponds to an extra two millimeters on our waists.
For the new study, the team worked with several NICUs across the country to implement ‘quiet time’ hours.
Guidelines included lowering the the lights, reducing conversations and having cleaning services only come at certain hours during the day.
Researchers then studied how each NICU’s soundscape changed throughout the day.
Results showed that there were fewer loud sounds and quiet time often extended beyond the set hours.
Additionally, the infants’ heart rates were healthier and stronger during quiet time hours.
‘Although the NICU noise literature dates back more than 40 years, even recent studies show that ambient NICU noise often exceeds recommended levels,’ said lead author Dr Erica Ryherd, an associate Professor of architectural engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
‘Despite the growing evidence of the negative impacts of NICU soundscapes on infants, there are large and pressing gaps in the literature that need immediate attention before ideal, evidence-based NICU soundscapes are achievable and more widely implemented.’
The team recommends instituting quiet time as well as designing NICUs to reduce noise, such as by the placement of windows and room arrangement.
They hope the findings lead to more studies abut how noise affects other types of hospital patients.
The results will be presented at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, which takes place from May 13 to May 17 at the Galt House in Louisville, Kentucky.