“Over the years, I have found tinnitus to be one the most challenging and frustrating problems for my patients. Patients want a pill to take or at least an immediate answer or reassurance, which is often difficult, if not impossible. After ruling out anything obvious, the best place to start is to control the sleep environment and masking with white noise, among other techniques described in this article.” - Drew Sutton, MD, Board-Certified Otolaryngologist
Tinnitus is a hearing condition where an individual will hear a sound that is not coming from their immediate environment and is not perceivable to others. The noise that is heard is typically a ring, hum, or buzz.
It can accompany age-related hearing loss, sustained damage to the inner ear, illness, and even a side effect of certain medications. Tinnitus can be constant or can come and go in a rare form known as pulsatile tinnitus. It also may be present in both ears or one ear, similar to how hearing loss can either come in symmetrical hearing loss or asymmetrical hearing loss.
For the most part, those with tinnitus can live a normal life with little impact on their day-to-day lives except the noise being a nuisance. One common issue surrounding tinnitus, however, comes when it is time to go to bed. Without other things to focus your attention on, it can be easy to fixate on the tinnitus, preventing you from getting a full night’s rest.
Most forms of tinnitus are currently incurable, and as a result, people with tinnitus need to manage their symptoms with different remedies. Future tinnitus treatments may be on the horizon, but management is the best form of relief available for now. Below is a closer look at some specific strategies you can utilize to help get you to sleep and stay asleep.
Many people who have tinnitus perceive the noise but negatively view it and see it as nagging, annoying, and irritating. Sitting alone with their tinnitus can bring about negative emotions and can result in tinnitus impacting their day. For those that have a real problem with their tinnitus, tinnitus therapy can help.
Tinnitus therapies mainly revolve around changing your perception of tinnitus since the presence of tinnitus itself cannot be removed. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is amongst the most widely utilized tinnitus therapy. In CBT, a therapist will walk through your often automatic negative response to your tinnitus.
People are better equipped to deal with their tinnitus without having an automatic negative reaction. With successful CBT, those with tinnitus might notice their tinnitus.
One of the main difficulties with tinnitus and falling asleep is typically little to no noise at night. There may be slight ambient noises such as an air conditioner or fan, but generally, the loudest noise they hear is the ringing in their ear for those with tinnitus.
To help drown out the sounds of tinnitus, you can play white noise when you go to bed. Depending on your specific tinnitus, music or nature sounds might help drown it out. Due to pitch, certain types of tinnitus can be difficult to drown out; luckily, many different sleep soundtracks are available at different frequencies that can make drowning it out easier.
In addition to helping to drown out your tinnitus, the sleep sounds can also drown out excess outside noises that may wake you up from your sleep.
Only Go to Bed When You Are Tired
Going to bed when you are not tired is a recipe for trouble falling asleep. Laying in a bed with your eyes closed while fully awake is a recipe for a wandering mind, and in the case of tinnitus, the sound is something an alert mind will latch its attention to.
Sometimes you may need to take a quick power nap to give yourself a boost of energy. A better solution would be going to sleep when you’re exhausted.
Waiting till you are exhausted can ensure that you are more likely to slip into a restful sleep rather than lying awake staring at the back of your eyelids and getting frustrated with the ringing in your ears.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is how well you control the variables that go into sleep. Having good sleep hygiene means that you adequately create an optimal sleep environment by limiting external distractions that can wake you up while simultaneously having a sleep schedule that promotes good sleep.
Below is a closer look at three aspects of sleep hygiene that you can improve to help get a better night’s rest. Utilizing these strategies can make for an easier time falling and staying asleep, which is a welcomed help for those with tinnitus.
Consistent Sleep Schedule
The first aspect of sleep hygiene is to tackle your sleep schedule. Consistency is key when considering your sleep schedule because it trains your body’s internal 24-hour clock to recognize and anticipate when it is time to sleep and when it's time to wake up.
To truly get the benefits of a trained circadian rhythm, you must commit to a schedule and stick to it.
Many people opt to sleep in during the weekends, and while it can be just the extra rest you need, it can also act to reduce the ability of your body to have a fine-tuned sleep-wake rhythm. Keeping your schedule as regular as possible can allow your body to have an easier time getting to sleep, get good quality sleep, and feel rejuvenated when you wake up.
One common issue surrounding sleep that people run into is that they don’t have a bedtime and wake-up routine. In reality, both of these can be essential in allowing you to get the rest you need.
Bedtime routines should be focused on getting your body relaxed and ready for bed. Dimming harsh lights, avoiding digital screens a half hour before bed, and doing a relaxing task such as reading can help to ease a busy mind so that you can fall asleep more easily.
A wake-up routine can be just as important as bedtime for feeling well-rested and refreshed the next day. When it’s time to wake up, you should make an effort to get out of bed and get moving. Getting moving and getting a healthy dose of natural sunlight can be an excellent way to start your day.
With a consistent routine, your body will slowly associate specific tasks with time to sleep or wake up. The better your body gets at anticipating and learning the routine, the easier it can be to fall asleep and attain good quality sleep since your body will naturally begin to wind down before bedtime.
The next aspect of sleep hygiene is creating an environment conducive to sleep. The hardest part of sleeping with tinnitus is the act of falling asleep, and if you are constantly being woken up due to things in your environment, it can lead to a more complex situation.
While convenient, your T.V., smartphone, or tablet could be hindering your ability to sleep soundly. Notifications and bright screens throughout the night can disrupt your sleep and make sleeping with tinnitus an even harder task.
In addition to reducing technology use in the bedroom, limiting other external stimuli such as intermittent noises and lights can create the perfect environment conducive to sleep. In some cases, it may not be possible to limit light and noise from infiltrating your room, but you can utilize tools such as earplugs and eye masks to cut you off from environmental stimuli that could wake you up and make sleeping with tinnitus more difficult.
In summary, tinnitus can make it more difficult to get a restful night’s sleep, but there are some great strategies to effectively manage tinnitus and ensure you can get the rest you deserve.
Strategies such as CBT and listening to white noise can help reduce the impact of tinnitus when falling asleep. Going to bed when you are tired and practicing good sleep hygiene can help those with tinnitus by improving overall sleep quality.