Hospitals. Noise. Sleep. Finally an acoustic standard!

New acoustic standard for hospitals in Denmark

This year a new acoustic standard for hospitals will be approved in Denmark. Up until now there has only been some rough guidelines (not mandatory). The acoustic demand will be on reverberation time – and the value will be 0.6 sec. in e.g. patient rooms, examination rooms and corridors. There is no doubt that this is a step in the right direction, and it makes me think about a conference about sound and noise in hospitals some time ago. The conference was arranged by the Danish Acoustical Society and took place in Ålborg in the northern part of Denmark.

Sick because of noise

Especially one of the presentations has been on my mind since the conference – a presentation by Chief Physician Per Thorgaard (anesthetic specialist). A personal presentation about his experience with noise.

He started explaining us that even when we are not sick – we will be in a hospital only because of noise:

I didn’t get sick because of it (the noise) – but remember that I had the opportunity to go home every now and then! The patients? They certainly didn’t get well!

Working with room acoustics in healthcare facilities every day, this is not new to me – that noise in hospitals is a huge problem – but to sit and listen to a doctor, and end user explain how he has seen people die to the sound of sirens and alarms right into their ears (!) just made me feel really bad. It doesn’t have to be like that.

Over the years the noise in hospitals has increased and in many wards today recovery is challenged because of that. The WHO guidelines are strict one would say – but not impossible to reach!


Per Thorgaard ended his presentation by saying that a hospital setting never looks like the nice pictures in the commercials.

Hospital facilities don’t look like commercials.


There is always a lot of equipment, often a lot of people, communication all day and all night – and the sound also affects the staff:

We do mistakes in ORs because we can’t hear what is said!

Sleep and restorative periods

Another presentation by Mikkel Filholm and Maiken Møller discussed restorative periods in an intensive care unit. A restorative period starts after 5 minutes without disturbance of the sleep and the chocking data showed that the mean restorative period in 3 weeks was 6.2 minutes.

Restorative periods


Imagine getting disturbed in your sleep. All night through… And then imagine that you are sick! Imagine that your hearing is more alert than ever – because it is trained to help you react to danger – not lions or hostile enemies any more – but alarms, footsteps and voices building up on the hard surfaces in the corridor. Imagine that you will get interrupted in your sleep 167 times in a 24hour period! That was the scary data of the study and the sad reality in an ICU.

It is not rocket science – when a patient doesn’t have the possibility to sleep and rest because of noise – he or she will not recover. Sleep is crucial for every one – and especially if you are sick.

So – what is the right compromise when we build a healthcare facility?

  • Can we afford not to prioritize good acoustics and designs that don’t kill the patients with noise?
  • What does it cost when a doctor makes a mistake because of bad room acoustics?
  • How would you feel if you get interrupted 167 times when you try to sleep?!

I really vote for acoustic guidelines and standards in healthcare – but I would also love to debate with manufacturers of technical equipment. Acoustic ceilings and wall absorbers cannot do magic when an alarm takes off in the middle of the night. This small video shows the reality today in a hospital in Denmark.

Sleep tight!


Acoustic Standards 86 Healthcare Environments 146

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