If you are one of the millions of people in the U.S. suffering from a medical condition called tinnitus then you probably know that it often gets worse when you are attempting to fall asleep. But why would this be? The buzzing or ringing in one or both ears isn’t a real noise but a side-effect of a medical problem like hearing loss, either lasting or temporary. But none of that information can give an explanation as to why this ringing becomes louder at night.
The real reason is pretty straightforward. To know why your tinnitus increases as you attempt to sleep, you need to understand the hows and whys of this really common medical issue.
What is tinnitus?
To say tinnitus is not a real sound just compounds the confusion, but, for most individuals, that is true. The person with tinnitus can hear the sound but nobody else can. Your partner sleeping next to you in bed can’t hear it although it sounds like a tornado to you.
Tinnitus alone is not a disease or condition, but an indication that something else is happening. It is generally linked to significant hearing loss. For many, tinnitus is the first indication they get that their hearing is in jeopardy. Hearing loss is typically gradual, so they don’t notice it until that ringing or buzzing begins. This phantom sound is a warning flag to warn you of a change in how you hear.
What causes tinnitus?
Right now medical scientists and doctors are still uncertain of exactly what triggers tinnitus. It may be a symptom of inner ear damage or numerous other possible medical issues. The inner ear contains many tiny hair cells designed to move in response to sound waves. Tinnitus often means there is damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from delivering electrical messages to the brain. Your brain converts these electrical signals into recognizable sounds.
The absence of sound is the base of the current theory. Your brain will start to compensate for information that it’s waiting for because of hearing loss. It gets confused by the lack of feedback from the ear and attempts to compensate for it.
When it comes to tinnitus, that would clarify some things. Why it can be caused by so many medical conditions, such as age-related hearing loss, high blood pressure, and concussions, to begin with. It also tells you something about why the ringing gets louder at night for some individuals.
Why does tinnitus get worse at night?
You might not even notice it, but your ear is picking up some sounds during the day. It hears very faintly the music or the TV playing in the other room. But during the night, when you’re trying to sleep, it gets very quiet.
All of a sudden, the brain becomes confused as it searches for sound to process. It only knows one response when faced with complete silence – generate noise even if it’s not real. Sensory deprivation has been demonstrated to trigger hallucinations as the brain tries 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 worse. If you’re having a difficult time sleeping because your tinnitus symptoms are so loud, producing some noise might be the solution.
How to generate noise at night
For some individuals dealing with tinnitus, all they require is a fan running in the background. Just the noise of the motor is enough to reduce the ringing.
But, there are also devices designed to help individuals who have tinnitus get to sleep. Environmental sounds, like ocean waves or rain, are generated by these “white noise machines”. If you were to leave a TV on, it might be distracting, but white noise machines generate soothing 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 louder?
Your tinnitus symptoms can be amplified by other things besides lack of sound. Too much alcohol before bed can contribute to more extreme tinnitus symptoms. Other things, including high blood pressure and stress can also be a contributing factor. If introducing sound into your nighttime regimen doesn’t help or you feel dizzy when the ringing is present, it’s time to find out about treatment options by scheduling an appointment with us right away.