Nurse scientist Meghan Mattos examines a bloodstain on a patient's sheet, part of the work she's doing to assess whether white, blue, or red lights can detect body fluids and under what conditions.
Nurse scientist Meghan Mattos studies factors that influence sleep in the hospital, including clinicians' use of white, blue, and red colored lights at the bedside.

An icon of a clipboard to signify scholarship in symptom science."Sleep is restorative," explained Meghan Mattos. "It allows us to function socially, think clearly, feel engaged. It also allows our bodies to heal."

So paying close to environmental factors that contribute to a healthy hospital sleep environment—from heat and humidity to light, noise, and medication—is critical for clinicians striving to maximize patients’ healing potential while they’re inpatients.

Hospital quarters—the space where Mattos’s (MSN `09) latest research resides—have a lot to do with that healing.

With seed funding from UVA Center for Engineering in Medicine, and faculty partners from both engineering and psychiatry, Mattos, an assistant professor and dementia scholar, first queried nurses and patients to identify key ingredients for sound sleep in the hospital, and factors that inhibited it. Then she zeroed in on room conditions to determine how, in real time, they impacted patients’ sleep and pain.

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So far, her research team—which includes undergraduate student Allie Kim (BSN `22)—has collected reams of data drawn from environmental scanners that measure light, heat, humidity, and noise, to patient-worn sensors that track sleep and wake cycles as well as vital signs. Ultimately, Mattos will cross-reference a room’s conditions with clinical data from electronic health records to determine its impact on patients’ sleep and health outcomes, and, in so doing, create a portrait of ideal sleep conditions within a hospital and pinpoint modifiable environmental factors that contribute to it.

Some conditions, Mattos acknowledged, will be difficult to control. Hospital rooms on UVA Health’s 3 East, where the pilot study is being done, can differ in temperature by as much as 16 degrees due to equipment use and occupants’ body heat. Shared patient rooms—at UVA Health increasingly not the norm—are notoriously difficult to sleep in. And acutely ill patients assigned to louder rooms closest to busy nurses’ stations for ease of access often trade sleep for the convenience of proximity.

Still, Mattos believes the data will enable her to craft recommendations to improve sleep with low patient and staff cost burden.

“We know individual clinical outcomes are unique,” she said, “but we’re trying to think about these very controlled environments and what we could do to promote healing and better outcomes, while not necessarily changing the quality and expanse of important clinical care.”

From the fall 2021 Virginia Nursing Legacy.