If you are one of the millions of people in the U.S. dealing with a medical condition known as tinnitus then you probably know that it tends to get worse when you are trying to go to sleep. But what’s the reason for this? The ringing is a phantom noise due to some medical condition like hearing loss, it isn’t an external sound. Naturally, knowing what it is won’t explain why you have this buzzing, ringing, or whooshing noise more frequently at night.
The truth is more common sense than you probably think. But first, we need to discover a little more about this all-too-common condition.
Tinnitus, what is it?
To say tinnitus isn’t a real sound just compounds the confusion, but, for most individuals, that is true. It’s a noise no one else is able to hear. It sounds like air-raid sirens are going off in your ears but the person sleeping right near you can’t hear it at all.
Tinnitus alone is not a disease or condition, but an indication that something else is wrong. Substantial hearing loss is usually at the base of this disorder. For many, tinnitus is the first sign they get that their hearing is at risk. Individuals with 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 warn you of a change in how you hear.
What causes tinnitus?
At this time medical scientists and doctors are still unsure of exactly what triggers tinnitus. It may be a symptom of numerous medical issues including damage to the inner ear. The inner ear has lots of 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 identifiable sounds.
The absence of sound is the basis of the current theory. Your brain will start to compensate for signals that it’s waiting for because of hearing loss. It gets perplexed by the lack of input from the ear and tries to compensate for it.
That would explain a few things regarding tinnitus. For starters, why it’s a symptom of so many different conditions that impact 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 individuals.
Why does tinnitus get louder at night?
Unless you are significantly deaf, your ear picks up some sounds during the day whether you recognize it or not. It hears really faintly the music or the TV playing somewhere close by. But at night, when you’re trying to sleep, it gets very quiet.
Suddenly, all the sound fades away and the level of confusion in the brain increases in response. When confronted with total silence, it resorts to producing its own internal sounds. Sensory deprivation has been shown to cause hallucinations as the brain attempts to insert information, like 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 are having a difficult time sleeping because your tinnitus symptoms are so loud, creating some noise might be the solution.
Creating noise at night
For some people suffering from tinnitus, all they need is a fan running in the background. Just the sound of the motor is enough to decrease the ringing.
But you can also buy devices that are specifically made to decrease tinnitus sounds. Natural sounds, like ocean waves or rain, are generated by these “white noise machines”. The soft noise soothes the tinnitus but isn’t disruptive enough to keep you awake like keeping the TV on might do. Your smartphone also has the capability to download apps that will play soothing sounds.
Can anything else make tinnitus symptoms worse?
Your tinnitus symptoms can be amplified by other things besides lack of sound. Too much alcohol before bed can contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus also tends to get worse if you’re under stress and certain medical problems can lead to a flare-up, too, like high blood pressure. Contact us for an appointment if these suggestions aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are active.