Got Tinnitus? Here’s How to Get ZZZ’s.

San Diego residents with tinnitus often have trouble falling asleep. A constant ringing in your ears is a distraction even in the middle of the day; lying in bed in the dark, it can leave you tossing and turning even when you’re dead tired. We have some sleep strategies that should help tinnitus sufferers get much-needed zzz’s.

Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
dog in a blanket

An estimated 50 million Americans experience tinnitus. Usually described as a ringing or similar sensation in the ears, tinnitus can have a significant impact on your life. Patients frequently end up getting too little sleep; they are unable to tune out the noise in their ears, and that leads to anxiety. It becomes a vicious cycle: sleep deprivation worsens tinnitus, and tinnitus causes sleep deprivation.

Your San Diego audiologist has some tips to deal with tinnitus and help ensure you get a good night’s sleep.

  1. Try masking techniques. Sound masking involves playing background noise to distract your brain from tinnitus so you are able to ignore it and get to sleep. White noise is a popular choice; you can download a smartphone app and play gentle rain or ocean waves, but any relaxing sound will work. People have success with fans, air conditioners, soft music and other environmental sounds. The trick is to set the volume a little bit lower than your tinnitus so the brain becomes used to it; eventually, it will assign less meaning to tinnitus.
  2. Stick to a bedtime routine. Adopting a consistent sleep schedule helps train your body to fall asleep at the same time every night. Set an alarm to wake up at the same time, as well. Do this regularly—even on weekends (ignore the urge to alter your schedule by staying up late or sleeping in)—and you should be able to fall asleep more easily.
  3. Adopt a relaxation regimen. Many people watch TV or scroll through their phones before bedtime, but this makes it harder to fall asleep; the blue light generated from these screens mimics sunlight and encourages the brain to stop producing melatonin, which signals that it’s time to go to sleep. Instead, turn off these devices and focus on relaxation. You can try the following:
    1. Physical relaxation: Hot bath, trigger point self-massage with a tennis ball, stretching and progressive muscle relaxation techniques.
    2. Mental relaxation: Read a book (an actual book, not your Kindle), meditate, practice breathing techniques, listen to relaxing music.

Developing a routine and following it consistently will help your brain associate that routine with falling asleep.

  1. Make your bedroom dark. Ambient light of any kind—not just blue screens—can disrupt normal sleeping patterns. Research shows that a pitch-black bedroom makes it easier to fall, and stay, asleep. Try blackout curtains or a sleep mask. Electrical tape can be used to cover lights from the TV, cable box or other source and won’t leave behind a sticky residue.
  2. Turn down the thermostat. Research shows that the optimal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 68º. If this is warmer than you’d expect, it’s due to an internal body process called thermoregulation; your body’s core temperature drops automatically at bedtime in order to encourage sleep. If the temperature in your bedroom is too high, it can make it difficult to fall asleep. If you’re afraid you’ll be too cold, wear a pair of socks and have an extra blanket on hand.
  3. Limit caffeine intake. Caffeine doesn’t only make it difficult to fall asleep; it’s actually a tinnitus trigger for many people. Even if you are able to drift off, the quality of your sleep will be affected. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and may increase stress and anxiety. It’s best to avoid caffeine for at least eight hours before bedtime; if you enjoy an after-dinner cup of coffee or evening tea, make it decaf.
  4. Don’t just toss and turn. If you’re awake and can’t get to sleep, tossing and turning won’t solve anything; constantly looking at the clock can cause anxiety and is one way to ensure you won’t be able to drift off peacefully. Instead, get out of bed and make yourself a light snack. Digestion requires energy, so a small snack can actually help make you tired. Choose a comfortable chair or couch, put on soft music and read a book once you’ve finished eating. Once you begin to yawn or feel tired, go back to bed. Chances are, your body will be ready for sleep now.

If you’ve tried these tactics and still have trouble sleeping, it might be a good idea to visit a sleep specialist in order to rule out a serious problem such as sleep apnea, which is common in people with hearing loss. If you have questions about tinnitus, contact a hearing specialist in San Diego.

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