Hearing Health Blog

Man in bed at night suffering insomnia from severe tinnitus and ringing in the ear.

If you are one of the millions of individuals in the U.S. dealing with a medical disorder called tinnitus then you probably know that it tends to get worse when you are attempting to fall asleep. But why would this be? The buzzing or ringing in one or both ears isn’t an actual noise but a complication of a medical problem like hearing loss, either permanent or temporary. Of course, knowing what it is will not explain why you have this buzzing, ringing, or whooshing noise more often during the night.

The real reason is pretty straightforward. But first, we need to discover a little more about this all-too-common condition.

What is tinnitus?

For the majority of individuals, 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. 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 is an indication that something is not right, not a condition by itself. Substantial hearing loss is normally at the base of this disorder. For many, tinnitus is the first indication they get that their hearing is at risk. Hearing loss tends to be gradual, so they don’t notice it until that ringing or buzzing starts. This phantom noise 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 conundrums and doctors don’t have a strong comprehension of why it happens. It might be a symptom of inner ear damage or numerous other possible medical issues. The inner ear contains lots of tiny hair cells made to vibrate 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 present hypothesis pertaining to tinnitus has to do with the absence of sound. Your brain will begin to fill in for signals that it’s waiting for because of hearing loss. It gets perplexed by the lack of feedback from the ear and tries to compensate for it.

That would explain a few things about tinnitus. For starters, why it’s a symptom of so many different conditions that affect the ear: mild 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 know it or not. It will faintly hear sounds coming from a different room or around the corner. At the very least, you hear your own voice, but that all goes quiet at night when you try to go to sleep.

Abruptly, all the sound fades away and the level of confusion in the brain goes up in response. When faced with total silence, it resorts to producing its own internal sounds. Sensory deprivation has been shown to cause hallucinations as the brain attempts to insert information, like auditory input, into a place where there isn’t any.

In other words, your tinnitus could get louder at night because it’s too quiet. Creating sound might be the remedy for individuals who can’t sleep because of that aggravating ringing in the ear.

Creating noise at night

For some people suffering from tinnitus, all they require is a fan running in the background. The loudness of the ringing is decreased just by the sound of the fan motor.

But, there are also devices designed to help those with 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 might be distracting, but white noise machines create calming sounds that you can sleep through. Instead, 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. For example, if you’re indulging in too much alcohol before bed, that could be a contributing factor. Tinnitus also tends to get worse if you’re under stress and certain medical problems can trigger a flare-up, too, like high blood pressure. Give us a call for an appointment if these suggestions aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are present.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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