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 attempting to fall asleep. But what’s the reason for this? The buzzing or ringing in one or both ears isn’t an actual noise but a complication of a medical issue like hearing loss, either lasting or temporary. Of course, knowing what it is won’t explain why you have this buzzing, ringing, or whooshing noise more frequently during the night.
The truth is more common sense than you may think. But first, we have to learn a little more about this all-too-common disorder.
What is tinnitus?
For the majority of individuals, tinnitus isn’t a real sound, but this fact just adds to the confusion. The person dealing with tinnitus can hear the sound but no one else can. Your partner lying next to you in bed can’t hear it although it sounds like a tornado to you.
Tinnitus is an indication that something is wrong, not a condition on its own. Substantial hearing loss is usually the root of this condition. For many, tinnitus is the first sign they get that their hearing is at risk. Hearing loss is often gradual, so they don’t notice it until that ringing or buzzing starts. Your hearing is changing if you start to hear these sounds, and they’re alerting you of those changes.
What causes tinnitus?
Presently medical scientists and doctors are still uncertain of exactly what causes tinnitus. It could be a symptom of a number of medical problems including damage to the inner ear. There are very small hair cells inside of your ears that move in response to sound. Tinnitus can indicate 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 basis of the current theory. Your brain will begin to compensate for signals that it’s not getting 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 explain a few things. For starters, why it’s a symptom of so many different illnesses that affect the ear: mild infections, concussions, and age-related hearing loss. It also tells you something about why the ringing gets worse at night for some people.
Why does tinnitus get louder at night?
You may not even detect it, but your ear is picking up some sounds during the day. It will faintly hear sounds coming from a different room or around the corner. But at night, when you’re trying to sleep, it gets really quiet.
Abruptly, all the sound disappears 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 demonstrated to induce hallucinations as the brain tries to insert information, including 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 are having a hard time sleeping because your tinnitus symptoms are so loud, producing some noise might be the solution.
How to create noise at night
A fan running is often enough to decrease tinnitus symptoms for many individuals. Just the noise of the motor is enough to decrease the ringing.
But, there are also devices designed to help individuals 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 generate soothing sounds that you can sleep through. Instead, you could try an app that plays soothing sounds from your smartphone.
What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?
Your tinnitus symptoms can be amplified by other things besides lack of sound. For example, 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 contribute to your symptoms. Call us for an appointment if these suggestions aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are present.