If you are one of the millions of people in the U.S. dealing with a medical disorder called tinnitus then you most likely know that it often gets worse when you are trying to fall asleep. But why would this be? The buzzing or ringing in one or both ears isn’t a real noise but a complication of a medical issue like hearing loss, either permanent or temporary. But none of that information can give an explanation as to why this ringing becomes louder at night.
The real reason is fairly simple. To know why your tinnitus increases as you try to sleep, you need to understand the hows and whys of this extremely common medical problem.
Tinnitus, what is it?
To say tinnitus is not an actual sound just adds to the confusion, but, for most people, that is the case. It’s a sound no one else is able to hear. It sounds like air-raid sirens are ringing in your ears but the person sleeping right beside you can’t hear it at all.
Tinnitus by itself is not a disease or disorder, but a sign that something else is wrong. Substantial hearing loss is generally at the base of this condition. Tinnitus is frequently the first sign that hearing loss is setting in. Hearing loss is typically gradual, so they don’t detect it until that ringing or buzzing starts. Your hearing is changing if you start to hear these noises, and they’re alerting you of those changes.
What causes tinnitus?
At this time medical scientists and doctors are still unsure of exactly what triggers tinnitus. It could be a symptom of numerous medical problems including inner ear damage. The inner ear contains many tiny hair cells designed to move in response to sound waves. Tinnitus can indicate there is damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from delivering electrical signals to the brain. Your brain translates these electrical signals into recognizable sounds.
The absence of sound is the basis of the current theory. The brain stays on the alert to receive these messages, so when they don’t arrive, it fills in that space with the phantom sound of tinnitus. It gets perplexed by the lack of feedback from the ear and tries to compensate for it.
When it comes to tinnitus, that would clarify some things. For starters, why it’s a symptom of so many different ailments that impact the ear: mild infections, concussions, and age-related hearing loss. That may also be the reason why the symptoms get louder at night sometimes.
Why are tinnitus sounds worse at night?
You may not even recognize it, but your ear is picking up some sounds during the day. It hears very faintly the music or the TV playing somewhere close by. But during the night, when you’re trying to sleep, it gets really quiet.
Suddenly, all the sound fades away and the level of confusion in the brain increases in response. When faced with complete silence, it resorts to creating its own internal sounds. Sensory deprivation has been shown to cause hallucinations as the brain tries to insert information, like auditory input, into a place where there isn’t any.
In other words, your tinnitus could get worse at night because it’s too quiet. If you are having a hard time sleeping because your tinnitus symptoms are so loud, creating some noise may be the solution.
Producing noise at night
A fan running is frequently enough to decrease tinnitus symptoms for many people. The volume of the ringing is lowered just by the sound of the motor of the fan.
But, there are also devices designed to help people who have tinnitus get to sleep. White noise machines replicate nature sounds like rain or ocean waves. If you were to keep a TV on, it may be distracting, but white noise machines create soothing sounds that you can sleep through. As an alternative, you could go with an app that plays soothing sounds from your smartphone.
What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?
Your tinnitus symptoms can be worsened by other things besides lack of sound. Too much alcohol before bed can contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms. Other things, like high blood pressure and stress can also be a contributing factor. Call us for an appointment if these tips aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are present.