What is known on the subject?: Nursing observations at night are conducted on psychiatric wards to ensure the safety and well-being of patients as well as to reduce the risk of suicide or severe harm. To our knowledge, no studies have examined the lived experience of the psychiatric ward environment and of nursing observations at night. What does the paper add to existing knowledge?: The main complaint from patients was the constant interruption of their sleep, as most of the patients in this study were observed 2–4 times an hour. Their sleep was interrupted by (a) the light from torches shone into their faces by staff checking on their safety, (b) the noises produced by the opening and closing of bedroom/ward doors, and/or (c) staff talking to each other during the observation. Patients also reported that they found having somebody enter the room in the middle of the night intimidating and unsettling. What are the implications for practice?: Poor sleep has been associated with an increase in suicide risk and mental health problems. Identifying practices that promote sleep hygiene is vital. The study could be used to develop a Quality Improvement Project to improve patients’ sleep and perhaps reduce duration of stay. Abstract: Introduction A fundamental component of nursing care is observations at night to ensure the well-being of patients. However, there is no literature on the lived experience by inpatients of such observations or of the general environment of a psychiatric ward at night. Aim/Question This study aims (a) to understand the lived experience of being an inpatient on a psychiatric ward at night with a focus on intermittent observations and (b) contribute to developing a tool to monitor the psychiatric ward environment for use in quality improvement projects. Method Semi-structured interviews were conducted with twelve inpatients from five psychiatric wards who had experienced intermittent observations at night. These interviews were subsequently transcribed and analysed using content analysis. Results Environmental disturbances including light and noise, invasion of privacy and safety considerations on the ward all contributed to sleep disturbance. The unintended consequences of disturbances caused by intermittent night observations, and by staff in general and other patients formed the core of the inpatients’ experience. We developed a clinical tool that could be used to identify the factors that are relevant on an individual ward. Discussion Participants interviewed unanimously agreed that poor sleep quality had a significant negative impact on their psychological and social well-being. These were discussed in relation to the environment and the experience of observations at night. Implications for nursing practice Deprivation of inpatients’ sleep is currently under-reported, and the usefulness of intermittent observations at night in psychiatric wards is questioned. Much could be done to adjust the environment at night to support quality sleep and improve psychiatric symptoms. This paper aims to highlight the lived experience of patients to help bring improvements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342-351
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Issue number4
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Dec 2019


  • acute mental health
  • patient experience
  • qualitative methodology


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