If you are one of the millions of people in the U.S. dealing with a medical disorder called tinnitus then you probably know that it often gets worse when you are trying to go to sleep. But why would this be? The buzzing or ringing in one or both ears is not 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 during the night.
The reality is more common sense than you might think. But first, we have to discover a little more about this all-too-common disorder.
Tinnitus, what is it?
For the majority of people, tinnitus isn’t a real sound, but this fact just adds to the confusion. The person dealing with tinnitus can hear the sound but nobody else can. It sounds like air-raid sirens are ringing in your ears but the person sleeping right near you can’t hear it at all.
Tinnitus by itself is not a disease or condition, but an indication that something else is happening. It is typically associated with significant hearing loss. For many, tinnitus is the first indication they get that their hearing is at risk. Hearing loss is typically gradual, so they don’t notice it until that ringing or buzzing starts. Your hearing is changing if you begin to hear these noises, and they’re warning you of those changes.
What causes tinnitus?
Presently medical scientists and doctors are still unsure of exactly what causes tinnitus. It could be a symptom of inner ear damage or numerous other possible medical issues. The inner ear contains lots of tiny hair cells made to move in response to sound waves. Often, when these tiny hairs become damaged to the point that they can’t effectively send messages to the brain, tinnitus symptoms occur. Your brain converts these electrical signals into identifiable sounds.
The current theory pertaining to tinnitus is about the absence of sound. The brain remains 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.
That would explain a few things when it comes to tinnitus. Why it can be a result of so many medical conditions, like age-related hearing loss, high blood pressure, and concussions, to begin with. It also tells you something about why the ringing gets worse at night for some people.
Why does tinnitus get worse at night?
You might not even realize it, but your ear receives some sounds during the day. It will faintly hear sounds coming from a different room or around the corner. But during the night, when you’re trying to sleep, it gets very quiet.
Abruptly, all the sound disappears and the level of confusion in the brain rises in response. It only knows one response when faced with complete silence – generate noise even if it’s not real. Sensory deprivation has been shown to induce hallucinations as the brain attempts to insert information, such as auditory input, into a place where there isn’t any.
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, producing some noise might be the solution.
How to create noise at night
For some individuals suffering from tinnitus, all they need is a fan running in the background. Just the sound of the motor is enough to reduce the ringing.
But, there are also devices designed to help people who have tinnitus get to sleep. White noise machines simulate nature sounds like rain or ocean waves. If you were to keep a TV on, it may be distracting, but white noise machines generate calming sounds that you can sleep through. Your smartphone also has the capability to download apps that will play calming sounds.
Can anything else make tinnitus symptoms worse?
Your tinnitus symptoms can be amplified by other things besides lack of sound. For example, if you’re indulging in too much alcohol before bed, that could contribute to tinnitus symptoms. Other things, including 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 active.