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Designing for sleep quality in open hospital wards (Advert Reference: RDF22/ADSS/DES/LIEVESLEY)

   Faculty of Arts, Design and Social Sciences

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  Assoc Prof Matthew Lievesley  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The NHS (and other health service providers) continue to work towards a model of person-centred care as defined by policy-makers including the World Health Organisations. Its implementation is more evident in Primary Care settings than in the more systemised Acute Care environments such as hospitals. 

The difficulties of sleeping well on hospital wards is a recognised problem and is known to adversely affect recovery (Hillman D.R., 2021). It is discussed in clinical literature, predominantly in relation to the specific factor of noise. However, the experiences of a person resident on an open ward for a single night can be affected by a wide range of factors beyond just noise. Currently, there is some evidence of looking holistically at this problem-space through a clinical/nursing perspective (Richardson et al, 2009) but little work using particular design or co-design methods, (except at the level of student projects (Zitkus et al, 2020)). It seems likely that taking a human-centred design research approach in this setting would develop a more holistic (bio-psycho-social) view of factors affecting sleep experiences. This would enable a richer exploration of the problem and evaluation of potential interventions and so equip Health Providers with the means and impetus to improve provision.  

Night-time disturbances may be caused by patient-related factors such as toilet visits and clinical observations scheduled at set times through the night, for example blood-pressure checks at fixed intervals after surgery. They are also caused by environmental factors including light (Vethe et al, 2021) and noise (Filary et al, 2015), where key sources cited in the literature range across: the movement of staff through wards and corridors, noise from other patients, alarm sounds from monitoring equipment and even frequent use of hospital bins to discard disposables after every patient-contact procedure (Wesselius et al, 2018). 

Design methods will support the synthesis of quantitative data such as environmental sound and light measurements and accelerometery, with the qualitative data collected about the experiences of the person/people resident on the ward. Data collection may range across data-logging devices through to interviews and cultural probes. 

A PhD exploring this as a design context could develop in different ways. Core to the outputs should be visualisation tools to express/explain the data collected on sleep disturbances holistically. This will likely build on service design methods which model behaviours/systems/services through timelines and touchpoints. Outputs may also be practical explorations of the behaviours of care-givers and care-receivers, and of the artefacts of the Ward (equipment, technologies materials and spaces). Taking a person-centred approach could also consider the role that peace-of-mind plays in comparison to peace-of-environment - for example the effect that the presence of loved-ones staying overnight may have. 

The PhD outputs will make the impact of a combination of factors on peaceful sleep, tangible to decision makers. The implications and impact of the study could extend to influencing commissioning and purchasing processes in hospitals as well as potentially designing/defining products, technologies, spaces and service-provider behaviours to facilitate better sleep. 

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Associate Professor Matthew Lievesley

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

·      Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

·      Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

·      Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/ADSS/DES/LIEVESLEY) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes ( which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Fillary, J., Chaplin, H., Jones, G., Thompson, A., Holme, A. and Wilson, P., 2015. Noise at night in hospital general wards: a mapping of the literature. British Journal of Nursing, 24(10), pp.536-540.

Hillman, D.R., 2021. Sleep loss in the hospitalized patient and its influence on recovery from illness and operation. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 132(5), pp.1314-1320.

Richardson, A., Thompson, A., Coghill, E., Chambers, I. and Turnock, C., 2009. Development and implementation of a noise reduction intervention programme: a pre‐and postaudit of three hospital wards. Journal of clinical nursing, 18(23), pp.3316-3324.

Vethe, D., Scott, J., Engstrøm, M., Salvesen, Ø., Sand, T., Olsen, A., Morken, G., Heglum, H.S., Kjørstad, K., Faaland, P.M. and Vestergaard, C.L., 2021. The evening light environment in hospitals can be designed to produce less disruptive effects on the circadian system and improve sleep. Sleep, 44(3), p.zsaa194.

Wesselius, H.M., Van Den Ende, E.S., Alsma, J., Ter Maaten, J.C., Schuit, S.C., Stassen, P.M., de Vries, O.J., Kaasjager, K.H., Haak, H.R., Van Doormaal, F.F. and Hoogerwerf, J.J., 2018. Quality and quantity of sleep and factors associated with sleep disturbance in hospitalized patients. JAMA internal medicine, 178(9), pp.1201-1208.

Zitkus, E., Harris, E., Miles, G. and Astin, F., 2020. Design to improve patients' sleep experience in NHS hospital wards: involving students in solving'real world'problems. Design for Health, 4(3), pp.345-364.
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