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 attempting to fall asleep. 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 problem like hearing loss, either permanent or temporary. Of course, knowing what it is won’t explain why you have this buzzing, ringing, or whooshing noise more often during the night.
The real reason is pretty straightforward. But first, we have to discover a little more about this all-too-common condition.
Tinnitus, what is it?
For the majority of people, tinnitus isn’t an actual 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 going off in your ears but the person sleeping right beside you can’t hear it at all.
Tinnitus by itself isn’t a disease or condition, but a sign that something else is wrong. Substantial hearing loss is generally at the base of this disorder. Tinnitus is frequently the first indication that hearing loss is setting in. Individuals who have hearing loss frequently don’t notice their condition until the tinnitus symptoms begin because it progresses so gradually. This phantom noise is a warning flag to signal you of a change in how you hear.
What causes tinnitus?
Right now medical scientists and doctors are still unsure of exactly what causes tinnitus. It may be a symptom of numerous medical problems including damage to the inner ear. The inner ear contains lots of tiny hair cells designed to vibrate in response to sound waves. Often, when these little hairs become damaged to the point that they can’t effectively send signals to the brain, tinnitus symptoms happen. Your brain translates these electrical signals into recognizable sounds.
The present hypothesis regarding tinnitus is about the absence of sound. Your brain will start to fill in for information that it’s not getting because of hearing loss. It attempts to compensate for input that it’s not receiving.
That would explain a few things about tinnitus. For one, why it’s a symptom of so many different ailments that affect the ear: minor infections, concussions, and age-related hearing loss. It also tells you something about why the ringing gets louder at night for some people.
Why are tinnitus sounds worse at night?
You may not even recognize it, but your ear is picking up some sounds during the day. It will faintly pick up sounds coming from another room or around the corner. At the very least, you hear your own voice, but that all stops at night when you try to fall asleep.
Suddenly, all the sound disappears and the level of confusion in the brain rises in response. It only knows one thing to do when faced with total silence – generate noise even if it’s not real. Hallucinations, like phantom sounds, are frequently the result of sensory deprivation as the brain attempts to create input where none exists.
In other words, your tinnitus may get louder at night because it’s so quiet. Producing sound may be the remedy for those who can’t sleep because of that aggravating ringing in the ear.
How to generate noise at night
A fan running is frequently enough to decrease tinnitus symptoms for many people. Just the sound of the motor is enough to reduce the ringing.
But, there are also devices made to help individuals who have tinnitus get to sleep. White noise machines replicate environmental sounds like rain or ocean waves. If you were to keep a TV on, it may be disruptive, but white noise machines produce calming sounds that you can sleep through. Your smartphone also has the ability to download apps that will play soothing sounds.
What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?
Lack of sound isn’t the only thing that can cause an increase in your tinnitus. Too much alcohol before bed can contribute to more extreme tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus also tends to become severe if you’re under stress and certain medical issues can result in a flare-up, too, like high blood pressure. Call us for an appointment if these suggestions aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are present.