If you are one of the millions of people in the U.S. dealing with a medical disorder known as tinnitus then you probably know that it tends to get worse when you are trying to fall asleep. But why should this be? The ringing or buzzing in one or both ears isn’t a real noise but a complication of a medical issue like hearing loss, either permanent or temporary. Of course, knowing what it is won’t clarify why you have this buzzing, ringing, or whooshing noise more frequently at night.
The real reason is fairly straightforward. But first, we have to learn a little more about this all-too-common disorder.
What is tinnitus?
For the majority of people, tinnitus isn’t a real sound, but this fact just adds to the confusion. The person with tinnitus can hear the sound but no one else can. Your partner sleeping next to you in bed can’t hear it although it sounds like a maelstrom to you.
Tinnitus alone isn’t a disease or condition, but an indication that something else is wrong. It is typically linked to substantial hearing loss. Tinnitus is often the first sign that hearing loss is setting in. Hearing loss tends to be gradual, so they don’t detect it until that ringing or buzzing starts. This phantom sound is a warning flag to notify you of a change in how you hear.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus is one of medical science’s greatest mysteries and doctors don’t have a strong comprehension of why it occurs. It may be a symptom of inner ear damage or a number of other possible medical conditions. There are very small hair cells inside of your ears that move in response to sound. Tinnitus can indicate there’s damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from transmitting electrical messages to the brain. Your brain converts these electrical signals into identifiable sounds.
The present theory regarding tinnitus has to do with the absence of sound. Your brain will start to fill in for information that it’s not getting because of hearing loss. It tries to compensate for input that it’s not getting.
That would explain a few things regarding tinnitus. For starters, why it’s a symptom of so many different conditions that impact the ear: minor infections, concussions, and age-related hearing loss. That could also be the reason why the symptoms get worse at night sometimes.
Why does tinnitus get louder at night?
Unless you are profoundly deaf, your ear receives some sounds during the day whether you realize it or not. It hears really faintly the music or the TV playing somewhere close by. But at night, when you’re trying to sleep, it gets very quiet.
All of a sudden, the brain becomes confused as it listens for sound to process. When faced with complete silence, it resorts to making its own internal sounds. Hallucinations, including phantom sounds, are often the outcome of sensory deprivation as the brain tries to create input where none exists.
In other words, it’s too quiet at night so your tinnitus seems louder. If you’re having a difficult time sleeping because your tinnitus symptoms are so loud, creating some noise may be the solution.
How to produce noise at night
For some individuals dealing with tinnitus, all they need is a fan running in the background. Just the sound of the motor is enough to quiet the ringing.
But, there are also devices made to help those who have tinnitus get to sleep. Environmental sounds, like ocean waves or rain, are generated by these “white noise machines”. If you were to keep a TV on, it may be disruptive, but white noise machines create calming sounds that you can sleep through. Alternatively, you could try an app that plays calming sounds from your smartphone.
What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?
Your tinnitus symptoms can be exacerbated by other things besides lack of sound. For instance, if you’re drinking too much alcohol before bed, that could contribute to tinnitus symptoms. Other things, like high blood pressure and stress can also be a contributing factor. Contact us for an appointment if these suggestions aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are active.