How to Get Better Sleep in the Hospital

Getting rest is the goal of most patients when they are in the hospital. It seems logical that when you are sick or injured that sleep is especially important—and it is. It is just very hard to obtain during a hospital stay.

Woman resting in a hospital
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Why Sleep Is Difficult in a Hospital

The very nature of a hospital can make sleep especially challenging. You are in a bed that isn’t your own trying to sleep with a pillow that isn’t your own. You can certainly bring your own pillow and blanket if you like, but the fact remains that you are sleeping on a bed that isn’t the one you are used to at home. Stomach sleepers may also have increased difficulty sleeping, as most hospital beds are designed for the patient to sleep on their backs.

Hospitals are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That means that things are going on all day and all night long, hospitals are a very busy place. So when you try to take a nap during the day you will likely hear voices in the hallway, staff cleaning your room or even another patient’s television at high volume because they didn’t bring their hearing aids. Hospitals are full of noise. There are the beeps and chirps of IV pumps, monitors, and other devices. There are beds rolling down the hallways and elevators chiming.

Then there is the care that you receive, which is necessary but will also interrupt your sleep. Labs are often drawn in the middle of the night, which means you will be waking up at 3 or 4 am to have blood drawn. Vital signs are taken as often as every fifteen minutes if a patient is unstable or is having a problem, hourly vital signs are standard in the intensive care units. If the patient is stable, they may be lucky enough to have vital signs taken every 4 to 8 hours, but can still cause interruptions in sleep.

Medications can also cause sleeplessness. Steroids, which are given to many hospitalized patients, can cause insomnia and excitability, even when exhausted.

The equipment used by the hospital, such as IVs and heart monitoring, can also contribute to difficulty sleeping. Moving and turning over is far more challenging when tethered to an IV pump or tangled in wires.

15 Tips For Better Sleep 

  • Bring your own pillow and blanket. If you are particular about your bedding or pillow, bringing your own may dramatically improve your quality of sleep. If you would take your own pillow for a hotel stay, do the same for a hospital stay. Packing for a comfortable hospital stay can make a huge difference in your comfort.
  • Ask for medication to help you go to sleep. Some medications, such as Ambien, help people fall asleep faster, which can be very helpful. If you take sleep medication at home be sure to mention it to your care team, as they may be able to add it to your hospital medications.
  • Ask for medication that will help you stay asleep. If you are having trouble staying asleep, or you can’t return to sleep after waking in the middle of the night, ask for something that can help. Over the counter medications such as Unisom and Benadryl are often used for this purpose.
  • Stay awake during the day and only sleep at night. Avoid taking naps so that you are ready to sleep through the night when the time comes. If you are exhausted, by all means, take a nap, but too much sleep during the day can mean not sleeping well at night.
  • Close the door to your room. Unless a patient is in the ICU, closing the door is not typically a problem and can dramatically reduce noise from the hallways and other rooms.
  • Use earplugs. If closing your door isn’t enough, wearing earplugs may be just what you need to tune out the ambient hospital noise and get some well-deserved sleep.
  • Use a sleeping mask. Something to cover your eyes will work wonders if the light from the hallway or outside the window is making sleep difficult to obtain.
  • Request no visitors in the late evening/early morning. If you have trouble dozing off when you have company, make sure you don’t have company when you are trying to sleep. Some people are comforted by the presence of friends and family, others find it difficult to sleep with an audience.
  • Use white noise. If you are still struggling with noise, many smartphones offer free white noise applications which can help mask the sounds of the hospital. Others prefer to use the television, music or even a fan to deaden outside sounds. Most hospitals will happily provide a fan for this purpose, especially if it means you feel rested and well faster.
  • Adjust the temperature. Speaking of fans, a fan can be a great way to control the temperature of your room. Most newer facilities offer temperature controls in individual rooms, so you be sure to adjust the temperature to your liking. Many hospitals are on the chilly side, this works well for patients as it is easier to add a blanket or two than to be overheated and waiting for the room to cool off.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. If the nurse doesn’t object, wear your own comfortable pajamas instead of the breezy hospital gown provided. Not everyone will be permitted to wear their own garments, but if you can, it is a great way to get comfortable. Just make sure you are wearing loose, casual clothes, such as pajamas.
  • Avoid caffeine. You wouldn’t drink coffee before going to bed at home, so make sure you avoid caffeine in the 4 to 6 hours before bedtime at the hospital.
  • Ask for medications that keep you awake to be rescheduled. Some medications won’t be able to be given at a different time, but some will. If you are being given a daily steroid and it is keeping you awake at night, you can ask for it to be given in the morning so the energizing effects will have largely worn off by bedtime.
  • Ask for pain medication at bedtime. If pain is keeping you from sleeping, ask for a dose of pain medication that can be given at bedtime, preferably something that is longer lasting.
  • Ask for a private room. Many hospitals have converted to all private rooms, but some still have rooms where patients are expected to share with a roommate. If you are stuck with a roomie who likes the tv loud, but not quite loud enough to cover their snoring or chatting on the telephone at 2 am, don’t be afraid to inquire about the availability of a quieter roommate or a private room.
2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Delaney LJ, Currie MJ, Huang H-CC, Lopez V, Haren FV. “They can rest at home”: an observational study of patients’ quality of sleep in an Australian hospitalBMC Health Services Research. 2018;18(1). doi:10.1186/s12913-018-3201-z

  2. Wesselius HM, van den Ende ES, Alsma J. Quality and Quantity of Sleep and Factors Associated With Sleep Disturbance in Hospitalized PatientsJAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(9):1201–1208. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.2669

Additional Reading

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.