Have you ever felt like the room is spinning even if you’re not moving, that’s vertigo. Along with dizziness, you’ll likely feel off balance as well. People who suffer from this condition can experience this sensation for moments, hours, and sometimes even days.
Symptoms are exacerbated by lack of sleep, so in this article, I’m going to share tips to help you sleep better with vertigo that could also help to alleviate your symptoms.
Before I dive in, it’ll be helpful to also include some background about vertigo, the causes and different types and triggers.
What is Vertigo?
Vertigo is the feeling of being dizzy, off balance, or in a spinning room, even if you’re moving slightly or not at all. While not life-threatening in and of itself, it can be an extreme inconvenience. Also, if it sets in while you’re driving, operating heavy machinery or participating in an athletic sport, serious injury could occur to you and others.
In addition to feeling dizzy, it can also cause nausea and vomiting.
What Causes It?
Some people experience sensations of dizziness and lightheadedness when looking down from extreme heights, but as a condition, it is caused by a problem with your inner ear. The issue could be a viral infection, past head trauma, or even something called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BBPV), which I’ll discuss momentarily.
Your inner ear is what controls your balance, so if there’s anything hindering its normal functions, the symptoms set in. Notice that I described it as a symptom, not a disease. In order to understand it correctly, keep in mind that it is a symptom of an underlying issue, and I’ll address them now.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo
As I mentioned a moment ago, one of the most common causes of this condition is something called BPPV, or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. In layman’s terms, we refer to this as “ear rocks.” These ear rocks are small calcium particles that build up and float around in your ear. As they move around, it will cause the dizziness sensation.
Another potential cause of vertigo is Meniere’s disease. Unlike particle buildup, the cause of Meniere’s disease is caused by fluid build-up in the ear that leads to pressure changes.
Meniere’s typically sets in between the ages of 20 and 50 and often results in some degree of permanent hearing loss. It can also cause tinnitus, which is feeling like your ears are ringing.
A viral infection could be to blame for symptoms of vertigo. It will cause inflammation in the nerves around the inner ear, which will cause symptoms to appear. The part of the inner ear where the infection occurs is called the labyrinth, hence the term labyrinthitis.
Oftentimes, labyrinthitis follows a viral infection like a cold or the flu. However, it can also be caused by many other factors, including head trauma, allergies, alcohol abuse, bacterial infections, tumors in the middle ear, or taking high doses of aspirin.
There are other causes, including tumors at the base of the brain and strokes. These are more serious and will need to be addressed right away by your doctor.
The most common symptom is extreme and prolonged dizziness. It can feel like you’re spinning or tilting, and you’ll most likely find it difficult to maintain your balance.
Other symptoms associated with vertigo include nausea, vomiting, jerky eye movements, headaches, tinnitus, and sweating.
In many cases, it can disappear without treatment. This is because the body is naturally self-healing and aims to be in a state of homeostasis, or equilibrium. Therefore, if your vertigo is caused by an infection and the infection goes away, you’ll be cured.
Your body is also highly adaptive, and it may adapt to the condition you have in your inner ear and rely on the rest of your senses for balance. Again, this is a case of vertigo going away on its own.
For extreme or stubborn cases, you may need to seek treatment.
Vestibular rehabilitation is a more formal process for training your other senses to adapt and relieve your vertigo symptoms. You’d work with someone trained in physical therapy to perform a series of exercises that help improve your balance and reduce dizziness.
Canalith Repositioning Maneuvers
These are a series of head movements that allow you reposition the debris in your inner ear from BPPV.
The movements were formulated by the American Academy of Neurology and include names like the Epley Maneuver, which you do by lying on your back and turning your head, and the Half Somersault Maneuver, created by Dr. Carol Foster. That movement entails looking up and then down and tucking your body in a somersault position.
Both of these maneuvers trigger sensations similar to vertigo but are typically successful at rebalancing the inner ear.
Some, though not all, forms of vertigo can respond to medication. For example, if you have a bacterial infection, you may be able to antibiotics to get rid of the symptoms.
A doctor may also prescribe a diuretic for patients with Meniere’s disease to ease fluid buildup in the ear.
In rare cases, vertigo is the result of a tumor that’s putting pressure on a nerve. The only way to find relief may be to perform surgery to remove the tumor.
Sleeping Tips for Vertigo Sufferers
Not getting enough sleep can make your episodes more frequent and pronounced. By sleeping restfully and through the night, you may find relief. Further, not sleeping in the right position can trigger an episode.
Avoid eating spicy food: Hot and spicy food can disrupt your digestive processes and make it harder to sleep through the night. In the several hours before you go to bed, stick to milder options.
– Avoid looking at bright screens: The light from your television or phone delays the production of melatonin, a crucial hormone to help you fall and stay asleep. Instead of looking at electronics, try reading a book instead.
– Avoid caffeine: In addition to keeping you awake, the acid in caffeine could wake you up with heartburn. Its diuretic nature could also make you feel like you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. If you’re making a concerted effort to sleep through the night, abstain from caffeine after morning hours.
– Breathing exercises and meditation: Both of these tips will be helpful in allowing you to fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply throughout the night. There’s a breathing exercise called the 4-7-8 that can help you fall asleep in as little as 60 seconds. Here’s how it works:
- Inhale through your nose for a count of four
- Hold your breath for a count of seven
- Exhale completely with a whooshing sound for a count of eight
This deep breathing technique oxygenates your blood and produces a relaxing effect that can encourage sleep.
Meditation is also helpful for clearing your mind. If you’ve had a stressful day or you’ve got a lot going on, meditation can help you wash away the worries of the day.
Want to learn more? Read our complete guide to bedtime rituals.
You’ll probably find that lying on one side, in particular, can make your vertigo worse. That’s most likely going to be your “bad” ear. The best thing to do in that scenario is to sleep on the other side and make it difficult to roll over onto the other side during the night.
You can also experiment with back and stomach sleeping to see if that makes the situation either better or worse. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so the best way to find the sleeping position that’s right for you is through trial and error.
The important thing to keep in mind with head positioning is to strategically place your head at an angle that prevents pressure from fluid buildup or the settling of inner ear debris.
If you sleep on only one pillow, try adding a second pillow to prop your head up further. You may also want to get a wedge pillow to keep your head at an incline naturally.
Use Higher Pillows
The higher your pillow, the more optimal angle you’ll be able to achieve. The wedge pillow I mentioned above is helpful. Other vertigo sufferers have had success with travel pillows that people bring on airlines. They offer extra support that keeps your head at a higher angle.
Body pillows are also helpful if you’re trying to prevent yourself from rolling over to your bad side.
Change Your Diet
If you love salt, you may want to consider cutting back for awhile. Salt is something that’s been linked to vertigo cases. In general, the healthier you eat, the better your body will be at adapting, so if you eat a lot of junk food and processed food, try switching to a more natural and plant-based diet.
Medications and Supplements
Medications can help alleviate your symptoms as well as address the underlying cause. If you feel particularly nauseous from vertigo, you can try an over-the-counter motion sickness tablet like Dramamine. In addition, supplements like ginkgo biloba, ginseng, blessed thistle, hawthorn and Cocculus compositum are also known to help minimize episodes.
Therapy or Surgery
There are several at-home exercises your physical therapist or doctor can show you. Or if you feel more comfortable, you can do them in their office. Most of the exercises involve you moving quickly from sitting to lying and twisting your head at various angles. This allows the rebalance of any buildup that is in your ears.
In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary, but again you’ll want to speak with a medical professional before deciding if that’s the best route for your case.
Tips After Waking Up
The worst thing to do when you wake up in the morning is to leap out of bed. If you’re susceptible to vertigo, this is a surefire way to experience it.
Instead, wake up slowly and move your head as little as possible. Make slow and deliberate movements. Also, if you have a loud alarm clock, consider switching to an alarm that wakes you up with natural light or music. This will wake you up gentler and minimize the risk of jerking your head.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if it is just dizziness?
The sensation of dizziness can be caused by conditions like anemia, heart problems, diabetes, panic attacks and high doses of caffeine. To know if your feelings of dizziness are signs of vertigo, track the length and frequency of your dizzy spills. If they’re infrequent and shorter than a minute or two, it’s likely just dizziness.
If your dizziness lasts for more than one to two minutes, you’re likely suffering from vertigo.
How long does it last?
While individual episodes can last several minutes, hours or days left unaddressed, it can persist for years. The total duration depends heavily on what’s causing it. If it’s happening from BPPV (and about 80% of the cases are), you can get rid of symptoms within a week or less by performing a series of specialized movements that you can learn from a physical therapist, or even online.
If your vertigo is from inflammation, you’ll have to address the cause of the inflammation before you can expect relief.
When should I see a doctor?
If your episodes are happening suddenly, frequently or over extended periods of time, you should make an appointment with your regular doctor. If the dizziness is coupled with other symptoms like difficulty speaking or moving, you may be experiencing something more serious, potentially a stroke. If this is the case, skip the doctor and head straight to the emergency room.
What’s the connection between sleep apnea and vertigo?
There’s a possible, but inconclusive, link between sleep apnea and vertigo. The theory is that people who suffer from sleep apnea tend to have more disrupted sleep. The frequency and intensity of the episodes may seem more pronounced. However, there is no causal link.
While vertigo can be scary and uncomfortable, it doesn’t have to be a permanent condition. By addressing the underlying cause or taking action to reduce your symptoms, you may be able to go back to living a normal life without drastic medical intervention.
Remember, living a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, and getting proper sleep are all helpful in reducing symptoms, or preventing them altogether.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.