How to manage listening fatigue

Listening fatigue means that our brains tire after listening for extended periods of time. Listening fatigue can happen to anyone – from students at lectures; children in classrooms, and adults at work or in meetings – all of us, trying to follow conversation and absorb information. Normally, listening can become tiring because our brains are using multiple cognitive functions simultaneously. For example, if you are in conversation with one person who speaks softly, one person who speaks very fast, and one person with a strong accent, it is likely that you will miss some of the conversation. In the presence of background noise, it is even more difficult to hear the people speaking as each voice needs to be separated from the background before we can understand speech. Normal hearers may still hear most of the conversation, but the remainder that is missed must be filled in using knowledge about the speaker or the topic (contextual cues) as well as non-verbal cues and visual information, to makes sense of it.

People who have hearing loss will have much greater difficulty, because hearing loss reduces the amount of clear sound information reaching the centres of the brain that understand speech, even in quiet. In noisy places, a person with hearing loss must focus far more and work significantly harder to follow the conversation. Much more information must be guessed and filled in compared with someone who has normal hearing. Hearing loss causes increased listening fatigue, frustration and difficulty in all conditions where communication is needed, having an impact on one’s quality of life and personal relationships. Therefore, it is important that a qualified professional helps people with hearing loss to address their access to sound; and teach each person optimum strategies to aid focus, concentration and conversation processing.

If you experience difficulty and listening fatigue in conversation, NOW is a good time to improve your quality of life by contacting a qualified professional for an assessment.

If you experience listening fatigue, here are some tips on how to manage it:

  • Take a break from the sound. If you feel yourself starting to become tired, take a walk in nature or find a quiet place to sit and relax for a while. If that is not possible, you can get up and walk away from the noise for a few minutes at regular intervals. This gives you a chance to refresh yourself and come back ready to concentrate again.
  • Try and eliminate background noise. Background noise only makes hearing more difficult, especially if there are multiple people talking at once. Try and eliminate background noise by requesting that people talk one at a time. You may also try and improve the acoustics in the room by adding soft surfaces such as curtains, or putting soft stoppers under chair legs to remove additional noise.
  • Try relaxation exercises. These can include meditation or deep breathing techniques to calm you and help you relax.
  • Take a short nap. If you have the opportunity, have a nap. Research has shown that a short nap of 20 to 30 minutes can help refresh the brain and improve concentration.

If you need any further help, contact one of our audiologists for help on 021 203 4327, or email us on

– By Richard Clarke, Audiologist