Tinnitus often gets worse at night for most of the millions of individuals in the US that experience it. But why should this be? The ringing or buzzing in one or both ears is not a real noise but a side-effect of a medical issue like hearing loss, either permanent or temporary. But none of that information can give an explanation as to why this ringing becomes louder during the night.
The real reason is fairly simple. To know why your tinnitus gets louder as you try to sleep, you need to understand the hows and whys of this really common medical issue.
What is tinnitus?
For the majority of people, tinnitus isn’t a real sound, but this fact just compounds the confusion. The person with tinnitus can hear the sound but no one 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 is a sign that something is not right, not a condition on its own. It is generally associated with substantial 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 signal you of a change in your hearing.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus is one of medical science’s biggest conundrums and doctors don’t have a strong understanding of why it happens. It may 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 vibrate in response to sound. Tinnitus can indicate there is damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from transmitting electrical messages to the brain. These electrical messages are how the brain translates sound into something it can clearly comprehend like a car horn or someone talking.
The present hypothesis regarding 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 in that space with the phantom sound of tinnitus. It tries to compensate for input that it’s not receiving.
When it comes to tinnitus, that would explain some things. Why it can be a result of so many medical conditions, like 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 are tinnitus sounds worse at night?
You might not even detect it, but your ear is picking up some sounds during the day. It will faintly hear sounds coming from another room or around the corner. But at night, when you’re trying to sleep, it gets really quiet.
All of a sudden, the brain is thrown into confusion as it listens for sound to process. It only knows one response when confronted with complete silence – create noise even if it’s not real. Sensory deprivation has been shown to cause hallucinations as the brain tries to insert information, including 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, producing some noise might be the solution.
How to produce noise at night
For some individuals dealing with tinnitus, all they require is a fan running in the background. The volume of the ringing is lowered just by the sound of the motor of the fan.
But you can also get devices that are specifically made to lessen tinnitus sounds. Natural 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 ability to download apps that will play calming sounds.
What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?
Lack of sound isn’t the only thing that can trigger an increase in your tinnitus. For example, if you’re indulging in 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. Contact us for an appointment if these suggestions aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are present.