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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 most of the millions of people in the US that experience it. But what’s the reason for this? The ringing is a phantom noise caused by some medical disorder like hearing loss, it’s not an external sound. Naturally, knowing what it is will not explain why you have this buzzing, ringing, or whooshing noise more frequently during the night.

The truth is more common sense than you probably think. To know why your tinnitus gets louder as you try to sleep, you need to understand the hows and whys of this extremely common medical problem.

What is tinnitus?

For the majority of people, tinnitus isn’t an actual sound, but this fact just adds to the confusion. The person with tinnitus can hear the sound but nobody else can. 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 by itself isn’t a disease or disorder, but a sign that something else is wrong. It is typically associated with significant hearing loss. Tinnitus is often the first indication that hearing loss is setting in. People who have hearing loss often don’t notice their condition until the tinnitus symptoms start because it develops so gradually. This phantom noise is a warning flag to notify you of a change in how you hear.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is one of medical science’s greatest conundrums and doctors don’t have a clear understanding of why it happens. It could be a symptom of a number of medical problems including damage to the inner ear. There are very small hair cells inside of your ears that vibrate in response to sound. Tinnitus often means there is damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from delivering electrical messages to the brain. These electrical messages are how the brain converts sound into something it can clearly interpret like a car horn or a person talking.

The absence of sound is the basis of the current theory. The brain stays on the alert to receive these messages, so when they don’t come, it fills in that space with the phantom sound of tinnitus. It tries to compensate for input that it’s not getting.

That would clarify a few things about tinnitus. Why it can be a result of so many medical conditions, such as age-related hearing loss, high blood pressure, and concussions, for starters. That could also be why the symptoms get louder at night sometimes.

Why does tinnitus get louder at night?

Unless you are profoundly deaf, your ear picks up some sounds during the day whether you realize it or not. It hears very faintly the music or the TV playing in the other room. At the very least, you hear your own voice, but that all stops during the night when you try to go to sleep.

Abruptly, all the sound fades away and the level of confusion in the brain goes up in response. It only knows one response when confronted with total silence – generate noise even if it isn’t real. Hallucinations, like phantom sounds, are often the result of sensory deprivation as the brain attempts to create input where there isn’t any.

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

How to create noise at night

A fan running is often enough to reduce tinnitus symptoms for many people. Just the noise of the motor is enough to quiet the ringing.

But, there are also devices designed to help those with tinnitus get to sleep. White noise machines simulate nature sounds like rain or ocean waves. The soft sound calms the tinnitus but isn’t distracting enough to keep you awake like keeping the TV on might do. Instead, you could try an app that plays soothing sounds from your smartphone.

What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?

Your tinnitus symptoms can be worsened by other things besides lack of sound. For instance, if you’re indulging in too much alcohol before bed, that could be a contributing factor. Other things, including high blood pressure and stress can also be a contributing factor. Contact us for an appointment if these suggestions aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are present.

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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.