If you are one of the millions of individuals in the U.S. dealing with a medical condition called tinnitus then you most likely know that it tends to get worse when you are attempting to go to sleep. But why would this be? The ringing is a phantom noise caused by some medical disorder like hearing loss, it isn’t an outside sound. Of course, knowing what it is will not explain why you have this buzzing, ringing, or whooshing noise more often at night.
The real reason is fairly straightforward. To know why your tinnitus increases as you attempt to sleep, you need to understand the hows and whys of this extremely common medical issue.
What is tinnitus?
For the majority of individuals, tinnitus isn’t an actual sound, but this fact just compounds the confusion. It’s a sound no one else is able to hear. 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 is an indication that something is wrong, not a disorder on its own. It is generally linked to 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. This phantom sound is a warning flag to signal you of a change in how you hear.
What causes tinnitus?
At this time medical scientists and doctors are still uncertain of exactly what causes tinnitus. It could be a symptom of inner ear damage or a number of other possible medical conditions. There are very small hair cells inside of your ears that move in response to sound. Tinnitus can indicate there’s damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from delivering electrical signals to the brain. Your brain translates these electrical signals into identifiable sounds.
The current theory pertaining to tinnitus is about the absence of sound. The brain stays on the alert to get these messages, so when they don’t arrive, it fills that space with the phantom sound of tinnitus. It tries to compensate for input that it’s not getting.
When it comes to tinnitus, that would explain a few things. Why it can be a result of so many medical conditions, such as age-related hearing loss, high blood pressure, and concussions, for starters. That may also be why the symptoms get louder at night sometimes.
Why does tinnitus get worse at night?
Unless you are significantly deaf, your ear receives some sounds during the day whether you know it or not. It hears really faintly the music or the TV playing somewhere close by. At the very least, you hear your own voice, but that all stops at night when you try to go to sleep.
Abruptly, all the sound disappears and the level of confusion in the brain rises in response. It only knows one thing to do when confronted with complete silence – generate noise even if it isn’t real. Sensory deprivation has been demonstrated 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, your tinnitus may get louder at night because it’s so quiet. If you are having a difficult time sleeping because your tinnitus symptoms are so loud, creating some noise might be the solution.
How to produce 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 lowered just by the sound of the motor of the fan.
But, there are also devices designed to help individuals with tinnitus get to sleep. White noise machines reproduce environmental sounds like rain or ocean waves. The soft noise soothes the tinnitus but isn’t distracting enough to keep you awake like leaving the TV on may do. Your smartphone also has the capability to download apps that will play calming sounds.
What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?
Your tinnitus symptoms can be exacerbated by other things besides lack of sound. For example, if you’re indulging in too much alcohol before you go to bed, that could be a contributing factor. Other things, like high blood pressure and stress can also contribute to your symptoms. Give us a call for an appointment if these tips aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are active.