It’s the middle of the night. The whole house is asleep. Everything is quiet.
You should be sleeping peacefully, but you can’t get that noise out of your head. It sounds like a ringing in your ear.
Sometimes it’s more like a buzz. No one else can hear it except for you, not unlike Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart.
You want to get some rest and fall asleep, but with all that racket it seems impossible. The longer you stay awake, watching the minutes tick by on the clock, the more stressed you feel. How can you continue to live like this, and more importantly, will you ever get a full night of rest again?
If this sounds like you, you’re likely looking for tips on how to cope with sleeping with tinnitus. Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can try to get enough sleep, from improving your bedtime habits to specific types of treatments. We’ll cover them all, and even address some of your most burning questions.
What is Tinnitus?
In layman’s terms, tinnitus is ringing in the ear, though some people hear buzzing, roaring, clicking, and hissing. It could be present in one or both ears, and it affects an astounding 50 million people in the United States alone.
The causes are varied, and include the following:
- Ear wax build-up
- Noise-related hearing loss
- Ear or sinus infection
- Fluctuating hormone levels
- Side effects from certain medications
- Meniere’s disease
- Deterioration of parts of the ear due to aging
- Neck or jaw problems, like TMJ (temporomandibular joing)
- Medical conditions like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and autoimmune diseases
- Injuries to the head or neck
People with tinnitus tend to notice it at night when background noises are low, and everyone around them is sleeping or quiet.
How to Sleep with Tinnitus
One of the most beneficial tactics to try is relaxation techniques and exercises before bed. These will help prepare you for better rest and make you feel relaxed and drowsy. Deep breathing, visualizing idyllic lands or a guided meditation could do the trick.
Progressive relaxation is another helpful technique. All you have to do is tense and relax different parts of your body, beginning at your toes and feet and slowly progressing up your body until you reach your head and neck. It does wonders in releasing both physical and mental tension.
Go to Bed When Sleepy
Cleaning up your nighttime routine is healthy for everyone, whether or not you have tinnitus symptoms. An essential step in this process is to go to bed when you’re feeling tired. Too often, we force ourselves to stay awake to finish a task, only to find that when we finally crawl into bed, we’re wound up from all that activity.
Instead, make a promise to yourself that as soon as you’re tired, you’ll hit the hay.
Get up at the Same Time Daily
Our bodies run a 24-hour internal clock called a circadian rhythm. This biological clock controls our sleep, appetite, hormone levels and more. When it’s out of sync, we suffer from all sorts of health challenges.
The most effective way to reset it and make sure we’re healthy is to wake up and get out of bed at the same time each day. Maintaining this regimented schedule will also cause you to feel tired when it’s time for bed and potentially reduce the risk of having this condition interfere with your shuteye.
Find Out More: How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule
Limit Caffeine and Nicotine
Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants, so it makes sense that they would also stimulate your nervous system, increasing the chance of triggering your tinnitus symptoms. If you can’t avoid coffee and smoking entirely, make an effort to stop consuming at least eight hours before going to bed.
Keep Room Temperature Optimal
We may think that a warm, cozy room is the ideal sleeping environment, but the opposite is true. A bedroom should be kept at a relatively cool temperature, between 60 and 68 degrees. As night falls, our body’s core temperature drops slightly as a way to signal us that it’s time for bed.
By keeping the bedroom on the cooler side, it allows our body to maintain an ideal temperature without working overtime or waking us up to adjust blankets or thermostats.
Learn More: The Best Temperature For Sleep
Avoid Screen Time
The blue lights from electronic devices like televisions, computers, smartphones, and e-readers disrupt the circadian rhythm and also inhibit the production of melatonin, a powerful sleep hormone.
If you’re continually watching TV, scrolling through social media or emails while lying in bed, you may not be able to fall asleep as quickly, giving tinnitus a window of opportunity to make its appearance. As a rule of thumb, avoid screen time within 90 minutes before bed. If that’s not possible use special glasses that block this type of light.
View Our Full Guide: Top Rated Blue Light Blocking Glasses
Alternatively, there are settings for Android devices and for the iPhones that can block this type of light without any extra equipment.
A white noise machine or a soothing seascape soundtrack can help you to treat tinnitus in two ways. First, background noise could block out the ringing in your ear. Second, it can soothe or relax you. Many people love falling asleep to the nature sound of crashing waves, and we bet that if, given a choice, everyone would choose that over buzzing.
Make the Bedroom Pitch Black
Light is the enemy of sleeping, so eliminate it entirely from your bedroom. Cover any digital displays like alarm clocks, cable boxes or Internet routers. If you have light coming in from the outside, get blackout curtains to create a cave-like atmosphere.
Other Ways to Fix It
A tinnitus masking device is ideal for people who want outside noise to block out the ringing and buzzing, but they have a partner or spouse who would prefer not to listen to an external soundtrack.
This type of device fits inside the ear and resembles a hearing aid. In fact, it serves a similar function. It works by amplifying outside sounds to muffle the ringing and buzzing.
Natural sleep aids can be a powerful ally when it comes to battling tinnitus and getting a full night of rest. One of the most popular is melatonin because it’s incredibly effective and it’s all-natural. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the body that induces sleep. In supplement form, it works in the same way.
Another option to try is valerian root. It’s widely used for battling both stress and insomnia. It’s a natural sedative that’s generally safe to use, though, in high dosages, it could cause complications. Check with your doctor and follow package guidelines if you decide to supplement with it.
Chamomile tea is another recommended aid. A warm cup of something soothing is usually part of a recipe for a restful night, and we think it’s helpful to try drinking tea as part of a nighttime routine.
Learn More: How Does Chamomile Tea Help You Sleep?
Consult with your doctor before going down this route. You’ll need a prescription for these, and there are side effects. You may choose a drug to calm your nerves like Xanax, Valium or Klonopin. Alternatively, you may want a specific sleep aid like Ambien or Lunesta.
Brainwave entertainment is not entertaining in the usual sense of the word. Instead, it’s an audio track that synchronizes your brainwaves to the other frequencies that help you fall asleep. It’s basically a binaural beat soundtrack with different frequencies being played in each ear, but these soundtracks are specifically designed for tinnitus sufferers.
Doing the Tinnitus Sleep Induction Technique
Remember the progressive relaxation technique we discussed earlier? The tinnitus sleep induction technique starts with progressive relaxation and builds from there.
After you’ve gone from toes to head, tensing and relaxing each muscle group, you’ll do something entirely counterintuitive, so bear with us and we’ll explain it. You’ll focus on your tinnitus. You’ll listen intently to it, as if it were a topic of interest. Listen for several minutes.
Next, picture your bed and visualize that it’s inside of an elevator that’s going deep underground. The doors are still open, and you can see all the dirt and rocks as you descend toward the center of the earth. Imagine yourself sinking down into the ground, and you may be surprised to find that it feels like you are genuinely dropping.
The deeper you go, the sleepier you’ll feel until dreams overtake you and you forget about your tinnitus altogether.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can tinnitus cause sleep deprivation?
People with tinnitus often state that falling asleep is one of their most significant daily challenges. Because of that sleep deprivation is a common side effect of this condition. To make matters worse, when you’re sleep-deprived, tinnitus symptoms can intensify.
What is the best sleeping position for tinnitus sufferers?
There’s no position that’s explicitly recommended. As a rule, nap in whichever position makes you the most comfortable and will help you fall asleep faster. If you have the ringing in one ear only, you may find that lying on your side with the affected ear either exposed or covered is helpful.
If you’re wearing headphones or earbuds to provide a noise distraction, you might want to lie on your back to avoid putting pressure on your ear or the side of your face.
Can a CPAP machine cause it?
Quite the contrary! But first, we’ll provide some background. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is what people with sleep apnea use to help keep oxygen flowing through their air passages.
What’s interesting about tinnitus and sleep apnea is that they seem to go hand in hand with many people who have tinnitus also having a sleep apnea diagnosis. However, the CPAP machine could help, rather than exacerbate a ringing ear. The reason is that it could equalize the pressure in the middle ear. However, this is still speculation, and more research needs to be done to prove this theory.
Not a lot of people with tinnitus talk about the loneliness associated with this type of sleep deprivation. For example, if you have a noisy neighbor or there’s a lot of raucous outdoors, you can share the burden with a partner and lament your rude neighbors together. However, with tinnitus, you’re the only one who hears the sounds.
Fortunately, there are ways to lessen the severity of this condition. And, for some lucky people, it goes away on its own.
- What is tinnitus? – healthyhearing.com
- Tinnitus – enthealth.org
- Tinnitus: Ringing in the ears and what to do about it – health.harvard.edu
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.