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

Tinnitus tends to get worse at night for the majority of the millions of individuals in the US that suffer with it. But what’s the reason for this? The ringing is a phantom noise caused by some medical condition like hearing loss, it isn’t an external sound. But none of that information can give a reason why this ringing becomes louder at night.

The real reason is fairly straightforward. But first, we have to learn a little more about this all-too-common disorder.

Tinnitus, what is it?

To say tinnitus isn’t a real sound just adds to the confusion, but, for most individuals, that is the case. It’s a noise no one else can hear. Your partner lying 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 disorder, but an indication that something else is wrong. Substantial hearing loss is generally at the base of this disorder. Tinnitus is often the first indication that hearing loss is setting in. Individuals who have hearing loss often don’t notice their condition until the tinnitus symptoms start because it progresses so slowly. This phantom sound is a warning flag to signal you of a change in how you hear.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is one of medical science’s biggest mysteries and doctors don’t have a clear understanding of why it occurs. It may be a symptom of a number of medical issues including damage to the inner ear. The inner ear contains lots of tiny hair cells made to move in response to sound waves. Sometimes, when these tiny hairs become damaged to the point that they can’t effectively send messages to the brain, tinnitus symptoms occur. Your brain translates these electrical signals into identifiable sounds.

The present theory regarding tinnitus is about the absence of sound. Your brain will begin to fill in for signals that it’s waiting for because of hearing loss. It gets perplexed by the lack of feedback from the ear and tries to compensate for it.

That would clarify some things about tinnitus. For one, 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 individuals.

Why are tinnitus sounds worse at night?

You may not even realize it, but your ear is picking up some sounds during the day. It will faintly hear sounds coming from a different room or around the corner. At the very least, you hear your own voice, but that all goes quiet at night when you try to fall asleep.

All of a sudden, the brain becomes confused as it searches for sound to process. It only knows one thing to do when faced with total silence – generate noise even if it’s not real. Sensory deprivation has been demonstrated to trigger hallucinations as the brain attempts to insert information, like auditory input, into a place where there isn’t any.

In other words, your tinnitus may get worse at night because it’s so quiet. If you are having a hard time sleeping because your tinnitus symptoms are so loud, producing some noise may be the answer.

Generating noise at night

A fan running is frequently enough to reduce tinnitus symptoms for many individuals. Just the sound of the motor is enough to quiet the ringing.

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 sound calms the tinnitus but isn’t distracting enough to keep you awake like keeping the TV on may do. As an alternative, you could go with an app that plays calming sounds from your smartphone.

What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?

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. Other things, like high blood pressure and stress can also be a contributing factor. If introducing sound into your nighttime program doesn’t help or you feel dizzy when the ringing is present, it’s time to find out about treatment options by making an appointment with us right away.

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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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