The nocturnal acoustical intensity of the intensive care environment: An observational study

Lori J. Delaney*, Marian J. Currie, Hsin Chia Carol Huang, Violeta Lopez, Edward Litton, Frank Van Haren

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    31 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: The intensive care unit (ICU) environment exposes patients to noise levels that may result in substantial sleep disruption. There is a need to accurately describe the intensity pattern and source of noise in the ICU in order to develop effective sound abatement strategies. The objectives of this study were to determine nocturnal noise levels and their variability and the related sources of noise within an Australian tertiary ICU. Methods: An observational cross-sectional study was conducted in a 24-bed open-plan ICU. Sound levels were recorded overnight during three nights at 5-s epochs using Extech (SDL 600) sound monitors. Noise sources were concurrently logged by two research assistants. Results: The mean recorded ambient noise level in the ICU was 52.85 decibels (dB) (standard deviation (SD) 5.89), with a maximum noise recording at 98.3 dB (A). All recorded measurements exceeded the WHO recommendations. Noise variability per minute ranged from 9.9 to 44 dB (A), with peak noise levels >70 dB (A) occurring 10 times/hour (SD 11.4). Staff were identified as the most common source accounting for 35% of all noise. Mean noise levels in single-patient rooms compared with open-bed areas were 53.5 vs 53 dB (p=0.37), respectively. Conclusion: Mean noise levels exceeded those recommended by the WHO resulting in an acoustical intensity of 193 times greater than the recommended and demonstrated a high degree of unpredictable variability, with the primary noise sources coming from staff conversations. The lack of protective effects of single rooms and the contributing effects that staffs have on noise levels are important factors when considering sound abatement strategies.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number41
    JournalJournal of Intensive Care
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2017


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