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A nurse standing over a patient.

Sleep is an integral part of life. You can’t live without sleep. Sleep becomes even more vital if your body is in recovery from an injury or surgery. Most, if not all, residents of short term and long term care facilities are recovering from something. Be it a cold, an injury, surgery, or emotional trauma, sleep is a vital part of recovery for all seniors in homes.

It becomes more difficult to sleep when you are in a new environment. On top of being in a new, and unfamiliar, environment, seniors are often interrupted during the night by care-giving staff. Nurses come in to check vitals, IV’s, other health stats, take blood, and various other medical procedures and checks. Most commonly, the reason for these sleep-interrupting procedures is a habit and “the way things have always been done.”

As time has gone on, studies have been done to understand just how important sleep is to residents and patients in short term and long term care facilities. A recent study has found that a lack of adequate and restful sleep has been linked to the worsening of dementia, diabetes, depression, anxiety, aggression, and cardiovascular diseases in seniors.

As these medical issues worsen, residents and patients increase their need for more medications. These medications have side effects, which ultimately worsen the quality of life for the patient or resident. These medications can also be quite costly.

The importance of sleep is well-known in most senior care facilities. Many residents and patients are put on sleeping aids. Sleeping aids come with increased fall risks, especially for seniors, who already have the highest fall risk of all the population groups.

Over the past decade, studies have been done on the noise level of hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. Medical services often make a great deal of noise in nursing homes and hospitals. If one lived in a residential home, they wouldn’t face these noise problems. Nursing homes, much like hospitals, often have tile floors, centrally located nursing stations, and rooms that are grouped together.

In order to improve the quality and quantity of sleep of residents, a few solutions that have been found are to:

  • Decrease the noise (conversations, opening and closing doors, etc.) of the nurses and other night-staff.
  • Residents who are unable to sleep at night should be given a quiet activity or a removed place to go in order to lessen the noise in the more heavily populated areas.
  • Televisions, alarms, and music (from either staff or residents) should be kept below 30 decibels of sound at night.

On top of improving the noise levels in nursing homes, there are many health practices that are in practice that are dated. Many of these practices require waking up residents. For example, incontinent residents must be woken up every 2 hours to make sure they are changed. This rule was implemented many years ago when pads and diapers were much less absorbent and advanced. This practice could be changed without adverse effects on the resident or patient’s health, and it would increase their sleep.

As always, the most important aspect of care in short term and residential nursing homes is individualized care. When the staff is aware of resident struggles, both sleep and otherwise, the quality of life of each resident improves. As staff is more conscientious of sleep needs, patient and resident health will improve.