Does your tinnitus keep you up at night?

By Carien de Jager

Sleep can be affected by tinnitus. Research supports this link extensively, and it can be reciprocal – where the ringing, buzzing, hissing or clicking in the head and ears may keep people awake, OR; where the lack of sleep and consequent fatigue can worsen the impact of tinnitus on a person’s emotional well being and functionality, and result in a decreased tolerance to tinnitus.

Case Study:

I have a patient, Jimmy* (name changed to protect his identity), who woke up after anaesthesia with very loud tinnitus in the presence of pre-existing hearing loss. Medical investigations indicate that there is no specific cause. In desperation, he attended my rooms for an assessment and management, if possible.

I fitted him with hearing aids, which have made a significant difference to his hearing loss and have provided him with symptomatic tinnitus relief during the day. He is able to better communicate with his family and friends. Communication at work is significantly easier despite the noisy environment of his workplace. However, at night, he was still experiencing sleep-loss due to his tinnitus.

Man sleeping

While most of the time, hearing aids are not worn during sleep, I decided to apply a built-in programme (part of the hearing aid technology) at night, that generates sound to assist the brain in managing the perception of tinnitus. His brain now focuses on a different, relaxing sound source during sleep. He has found that sleeping with his hearing aids’ tinnitus program means that he is able to fall asleep, and stay asleep during the night.

The effect of not sleeping properly can affect so many of the emotional aspects of your life – creating stress, irritability and generally lower tolerance for the daily stresses we are exposed to. Treating patients with tinnitus includes addressing one of the most frequent self-reported complaints – ‘getting to sleep.’

There are effective management solutions for tinnitus-induced insomnia. Background sounds – whether through an external source such as music, environmental sound generators, nature/water sounds provide a calming effect. In devices specially set by an audiologist, the sound can be tailored for your needs so that there is a relationship between the sound you use and the relaxation it creates for your brain to de-focus away from the sound of tinnitus. Coupled with some relaxation exercises, there is a positive effect on stress levels, and subsequently, on tinnitus.

Seek help from a qualified audiologist. Better management may lead to more rest.