Goodnight moon, goodnight you: Tips for a good night's sleep in hospital

Sleeping well at night can make you feel better, give you more energy and promote health and healing. There's no denying that sleeping well in hospital can be hard; it's an unfamiliar environment without the comforts of home, but there are things patients, parents and carers can do to ensure they get the best nights sleep possible during their hospital stay.

Dr Vishal Saddi, Sleep and Respiratory Specialist at Sydney Children's Hospitals Network, has some helpful tips and advice on optimising sleep in hospital.

How hospital environment can affect your and your child’s sleep

Many parents and children find it hard to get a good night’s sleep in the hospital environment. There are many factors that could affect your and your child’s sleep in the hospital. These include:

  • Lighting in the hospital room can be too bright at night or dark during the day
  • Sharing the room space with other children and families
  • Regular check-ups and observations  during the night
  • Symptoms caused by your child’s underlying disease or treatment such as pain, anxiety or trouble breathing.
  • Some medications might make your child more sleepy or keep them awake at night
  • Some parents and children find that sleeping on a different mattress affects their sleep quality

How do you improve sleep in the hospital

If you or your child have trouble sleeping in the hospital, try the ideas below:

Bring items from home
You may want to consider bringing certain items from home to make you feel more comfortable. These include:

  • Familiar pillows
  • Your child’s favourite sleeping toy, blanket or comforters
  • A good book for you, nightwear and some toiletries
  • Earplugs
  • An eyemask
  • Slippers

During the day

Open windows (if your room has one) or include some light physical activity in the sun. Light helps set your body’s internal clock.

Limit daytime napping

Taking naps late in the afternoon can make it difficult for you and your child to fall asleep at night.

Speak to your doctor or nurse

Where possible changing medication times and reducing frequency of observations overnight might help you and your child have uninterrupted sleep.

At Bedtime

Avoid caffeine containing foods and drinks. Beware of hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolates and cola drinks.         

You and your child should finish dinner at least 3 hours before you want to go to sleep.

Other tips to help you sleep better

Have a sleep routine in hospital

You and your child could still try and keep a sleep routine in hospital. Pick any three activities such as reading, massage, meditation, listening to soothing music using headphones etc consistently before bedtime.

Make your bed sleep friendly

Turn off all electronic devices (phones, laptops and iPads) at least an hour before bedtime.

If you or your child can’t fall asleep, try a short activity such as reading a book for 30 minutes.

Some adults and children may find deep breathing exercises before bedtime relaxing.

Keep your room dark

Close the curtains or try an eye mask.

The right temperature

Make sure your room is not too cold or hot. Nursing staff can provide or remove extra blankets if needed.

There's no denying that it can be tricky to get good sleep in hospital, but working with your treating team and implementing the above tips will give you the best possible chance at much needed sleep.

For more information, check out the information sheet on sleep in hospital

Find more details on sleep patterns for children and adolescents here.