Effects of earplugs and eye masks on nocturnal sleep


Environmental stimulus, especially noise and light, is thought to disrupt sleep in patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). This study aimed to determine the physiological and psychological effects of ICU noise and light, and of earplugs and eye masks, used in these conditions in healthy subjects.


Fourteen subjects underwent polysomnography under four conditions: adaptation, baseline, exposure to recorded ICU noise and light (NL), and NL plus use of earplugs and eye masks (NLEE). Urine was analyzed for melatonin and cortisol levels. Subjects rated their perceived sleep quality, anxiety levels and perception of environmental stimuli.


Subjects had poorer perceived sleep quality, more light sleep, longer rapid eye movement (REM) latency, less REM sleep when exposed to simulated ICU noise and light (P < 0.05). Nocturnal melatonin (P = 0.007) and cortisol secretion levels (P = 0.004) differed significantly by condition but anxiety levels did not (P = 0.06). Use of earplugs and eye masks resulted in more REM time, shorter REM latency, less arousal (P < 0.05) and elevated melatonin levels (P = 0.002).

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