Sleep Deprivation Is Bad Medicine


Recently I visited a friend in the ICU, recovering from emergency surgery. I found her trying to sleep—under glaring fluorescent lights, with the constant beeping of monitors, and a hockey game blaring from an overhead TV.

“You can wake her up,” said the nurse.

I asked the nurse to turn off the TV instead. It wasn’t possible to dim the lights or stop the beeping, even though there were visual monitors and a nurse sitting with her at all times.

Sleep is the body’s healing mode. When you are sleeping, your body puts its energy into tissue repair, pathogen destruction, and cognitive processing. Sleep deprivation rapidly erodes our physical and mental health, to the point where a few nights without sleep leads to breakdowns in healthy people.

And yet hospital systems are designed without regard for healthy sleep.

Moreover, the constant beeping of monitors leads to ‘alarm fatigue’ in nurses. When barraged by a constant stream of noise, nurses stop being able to pay attention to any of it. Nurses with alarm fatigue will ignore or shut down alarms in actual emergencies, because they’ve been conditioned to tune them out.

Most nurses understand that this is a big problem. If you’ve ever been hospitalized, you know it as well. Yet nothing changes.


Practical Sanctuary’s mission is to create healthy environments that are sensitive to the needs of all humans–sensitive, neurodiverse, and neurotypical. Changing the way we design hospital environments is part of that mission. For a sensory assessment of your business, book a consultation here.

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