Why Does The Ringing In My Ears Become Worse At Night?
Hearing ringing and buzzing sounds during the day when we’re preoccupied and have work or other tasks to distract ourselves is one thing, but why do these sounds become worse at night while we’re resting or trying to fall asleep?
With an estimated one-quarter of the Australian workforce currently experiencing tinnitus and two in three affected at some point in their lives , here’s a look into why you may be hearing ringing in your ears, what’s causing it, and why it often becomes worse at night.
Tinnitus Causes The Ringing In Your Ears
The reason you hear the ringing in the first place is due to a condition called tinnitus, which is when you hear a sound in one or both ears despite there being no cause for the sound around us (‘external’ sound). Most people will be familiar with a short-lived form of tinnitus after being exposed to loud noises at a movie theatre or a concert, for example - but many people live with ongoing tinnitus as a result of age-related changes, hearing loss, and damage to the ear or auditory system.
Tinnitus is not actually a condition or a disease, but a symptom that may indicate that something is going wrong somewhere along the auditory system, which includes the ear, the auditory nerve (which connects the ear to the brain), and the parts of the brain that interpret the sounds we hear.
Why Does Tinnitus Get Worse At Night?
Our days are often filled with lots of external sounds, both ones we’re very aware of like people talking to us and television sets, and ones we may be less aware of but are always happening, like cars driving past, noises from people walking past, and even our own voice. Our brain is constantly working hard to interpret the sound waves from all of these things and create the corresponding sound for us to hear.
In the evenings, we tend to wind down and there tends to be less noise from the environment around us. The quietness can be confusing to our brain, which may not be able to tell if it really is just very quiet around us, or if there’s some miscommunication happening with the way that sound messages are being relayed between the ear and brain, and it’s a problem that needs to be fixed. So the brain turns up its sensitivity to try to detect sound, producing more electrical signals, which leads to tinnitus and worsens the ringing in our ears .
The volume of the ringing may reach a peak right when we’re lying down to fall asleep, as there are suddenly fewer senses for your brain to manage - no light means no visual information to process, and no moving around means little sensory information aside from what we feel when lying down. This can lead to our brain focusing on our auditory system and amplifying the noise.
What Makes Tinnitus Worse?
According to research, the most common things that make tinnitus worse aside from being in a quiet place are mental or emotional stress, having recently been in a very noisy environment, being in a noisy place, and not getting enough sleep .
Other reasons that are either reported in the research or reported to our ear health professionals have included excess ear wax build-up, taking certain medication or supplements, feeling dehydrated, consuming a diet high in sodium, sugar, or caffeine, smoking and alcohol, allergies and food sensitivities, and medical issues - specifically a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
In any of these cases, it’s not always the volume or intensity of the tinnitus that may increase, but the tone or pitch of the tinnitus may change to be notably less pleasant.
How Can I Stop Tinnitus At Night?
Given that silent conditions are a key exacerbator of tinnitus, a way to help lessen the effects of tinnitus at night is by strategically using sound in a way that doesn’t interrupt your sleep or rest while keeping the brain busy and avoiding signaling to the brain that it needs to work harder to hear. You can try to do this at home using simple solutions like:
- A white noise machine that plays gentle rain sounds, wind sounds, wave sounds, or something else like relaxing music.
- If you don’t have a white noise machine, you can play a ‘white noise’ playlist for free from Spotify or Youtube
- Keep a fan on at night
Our audiology team also prescribes innovative and custom hearing aids, which help tinnitus in a number of ways. Our hearing aids can help your brain better focus on the external sounds in your environment by improving your overall hearing, which in turn masks the tinnitus ringing sounds. Hearing aids can also retrain the brain to classify tinnitus sounds as ‘unimportant’ so they’re less noticeable and much easier to ignore - much like how sounds like the wind in the trees are typically classed as unimportant, so isn’t at the forefront of your hearing and concentration. Your hearing aids can also feature:
- Rechargeability on the go
- Connectivity to phone and television
- Fall detection
- Translation and other AI features
How Our Ear Care Professionals Can Help
Whether your tinnitus at night is disrupting your ability to sleep and therefore stay alert throughout the day, or you’ve recently developed tinnitus and you’re looking for professional care, we can help.
At your appointment, your ear care professional will assess your overall ear health, help to uncover the underlying cause of your tinnitus, and create a tailored management plan to help you manage your symptoms and reduce the severity of the ringing sound you hear. As tinnitus has a variety of causes, getting a professional assessment to address these causes can quickly help make your daily life more comfortable.
Book an appointment with one of our experienced, professional, and friendly hearing team today at your local centre here.