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Children’s Hospitals Taking Steps to Ensure Regular Sleep Patterns

Blurred doctors surgery corridorWhen at home, parents can ensure that their child gets a good night’s sleep with rituals like bedtime stories, night lights, and stuffed animals. But in hospitals, the situation is quite different, which is why many children’s hospitals are beginning to take steps to ensure that children are getting proper amounts of sleep.

The atmosphere of any hospital is hectic and loud. Medical treatments and tests often can’t wait for daylight hours in an emergency, which often results in children being woken in the middle of the night.

With increasing amounts of research highlighting the link between sleep and good health, children’s hospitals are rethinking just how they work at night.

Sapna Kudchadkar, an assistant professor of anesthesiology, critical care, and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, started an initiative to promote better sleep over a year ago. “If we’re going to try to heal kids, we need to try to have them do the one thing that’s so important for their brain development. And that’s optimizing their sleep,” she said.

Since then, the children’s hospital has started to employ strategies that most hospitals use to foster better sleep in adults.

“Activities such as bathing children are shifted to daylight hours. Also, playtime is promoted in the afternoon to help maintain a sense of normalcy and contrast nighttime rest,” USA Today reports.

However, this doesn’t improve the sleep schedules of the adults working in hospitals. As much as 43% of the American population between ages 13 and 64 report rarely or never getting a good night’s sleep during the week.

Shift work is already known to have negative impacts on the sleep habits of employees, but new research warns that irregular work schedules could increase the risk of employees suffering a severe stroke in the future.

Professor David Earnest, from Texas AandM Health Science Center College of Medicine, has been studying sleep patterns for years. 

“The body is synchronized to night and day by circadian rhythms — 24-hour cycles controlled by internal biological clocks that tell our bodies when to sleep, when to eat and when to perform numerous physiological processes,” Earnest said in an interview with the Daily Mail.

However, it is neither the longer hours, nor the irregular nature of the hours, necessarily, that are the problem.

Rather, the change in when a person wakes up, goes to bed, and eats every few days “unwinds” their body clocks and makes it difficult for them to maintain a natural, 24-hour cycle.

When the internal mechanisms of a person’s body are disrupted, as they are when people go to bed and get up at extremely different times every few days, there can be a major impact on overall health. Experts say that creating good sleeping habits is essential for a healthy lifestyle. 

Jennifer Jewell, a pediatric hospitalist at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, ME, said that physicians and hospital administrators are starting to recognize that “we’re doing some stuff in our hospitals that doesn’t really reflect what we’re telling people to do at home.”

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