Tinnitus often gets worse at night for the majority of the millions of individuals in the US that experience it. But why would this be? The buzzing or ringing in one or both ears isn’t 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 at night.
The truth is more common sense than you might think. To know why your tinnitus gets louder as you try to sleep, you need to know the hows and whys of this really 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 can hear. Your partner sleeping next to you in bed can’t hear it even though it sounds like a maelstrom to you.
Tinnitus alone is not a disease or condition, but a sign that something else is happening. Substantial hearing loss is normally the root of this disorder. For a lot of people, 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 begins. This phantom sound is a warning flag to signal you of a change in your hearing.
What causes tinnitus?
At this time medical scientists and doctors are still not sure of exactly what causes tinnitus. It might be a symptom of inner ear damage or a number of other possible medical issues. The inner ear has many tiny hair cells made to move in response to sound waves. Often, when these little hairs get damaged to the point that they can’t efficiently send messages to the brain, tinnitus symptoms occur. These electrical messages are how the brain translates sound into something it can clearly interpret like a car horn or a person speaking.
The current theory pertaining to tinnitus has to do with the absence of sound. The brain remains on the alert to get these messages, so when they don’t arrive, it fills that space with the phantom sound of tinnitus. It attempts to compensate for sound that it’s not receiving.
That would clarify some things when it comes to tinnitus. For starters, why it’s a symptom of so many different conditions 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 does tinnitus get worse at night?
Unless you are profoundly deaf, your ear picks up some sounds during the day whether you know it or not. It hears really faintly the music or the TV playing somewhere close by. But during the night, when you’re trying to sleep, it gets really quiet.
Abruptly, all the sound disappears and the level of confusion in the brain increases in response. When confronted with total silence, it resorts to creating its own internal sounds. Sensory deprivation has been shown to induce hallucinations as the brain attempts to insert information, including auditory input, into a place where there isn’t any.
In other words, your tinnitus might get worse at night because it’s so quiet. Producing sound may be the solution for people who can’t sleep because of that aggravating ringing in the ear.
Creating noise at night
A fan running is often enough to decrease tinnitus symptoms for many individuals. The loudness of the ringing is decreased 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 produced by these “white noise machines”. If you were to leave a TV on, it might be disruptive, but white noise machines produce soothing sounds that you can sleep through. Your smartphone also has the ability to download apps that will play calming 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 lead to more severe tinnitus symptoms. Other things, like high blood pressure and stress can also contribute to your symptoms. Call us for an appointment if these suggestions aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are active.