Evanston Audiology - Evanston, IL

Man in bed at night suffering insomnia from severe tinnitus and ringing in the ear.

If you are one of the millions of individuals in the U.S. suffering from a medical disorder known as tinnitus then you most likely know that it tends to get worse when you are attempting to fall asleep. But why should this be? The ringing is a phantom sound due to some medical condition like hearing loss, it isn’t an outside sound. Of course, knowing what it is won’t explain why you have this buzzing, ringing, or whooshing noise more frequently at night.

The reality is more common sense than you probably think. To know why your tinnitus increases as you attempt to sleep, you need to know the hows and whys of this really common medical problem.

What is tinnitus?

To say tinnitus is not an actual sound just compounds the confusion, but, for most people, that is true. The person with tinnitus can hear the sound but nobody else can. Your partner sleeping next to you in bed can’t hear it even though it sounds like a tornado to you.

Tinnitus alone is not a disease or disorder, but a sign that something else is happening. Substantial hearing loss is usually the root of this condition. Tinnitus is often the first sign that hearing loss is setting in. 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 notify you of a change in how you hear.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is one of medical science’s biggest conundrums and doctors don’t have a strong understanding of why it occurs. It might be a symptom of a number of medical issues including inner ear damage. The inner ear contains lots of tiny hair cells made to vibrate in response to sound waves. Tinnitus often means there is damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from sending electrical messages to the brain. These electrical messages are how the brain translates sound into something it can clearly interpret like a car horn or somebody speaking.

The absence of sound is the basis of the current hypothesis. Your brain will start to fill in for information that it’s waiting for because of hearing loss. It tries to compensate for input that it’s not getting.

When it comes to tinnitus, that would clarify some things. Why it can be caused by so many medical conditions, such as 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 people.

Why are tinnitus sounds worse at night?

You might not even notice it, but your ear receives some sounds during the day. 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.

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 demonstrated to induce hallucinations as the brain tries to insert information, such as auditory input, into a place where there isn’t any.

In other words, it’s too quiet at night so your tinnitus seems worse. Creating sound may be the solution for those who can’t sleep because of that irritating ringing in the ear.

Generating 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 reduced just by the sound of the fan motor.

But, there are also devices made to help those who have tinnitus get to sleep. Natural sounds, like ocean waves or rain, are produced 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 may do. Instead, you could try an app that plays calming sounds from your smartphone.

Can anything else make tinnitus symptoms louder?

Your tinnitus symptoms can be exacerbated by other things besides lack of sound. Too much alcohol before bed can contribute to more extreme tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus also tends to worsen if you’re stressed out and certain medical problems can trigger a flare-up, also, like high blood pressure. Call us for an appointment if these tips aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are active.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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