Tinnitus & Sleep

Contorted woman with hands on face

People with tinnitus often have difficulty sleeping and a study found that 54 percent of people with tinnitus also had a sleep disorder. Tinnitus sufferers report several problems:

  • Having trouble falling asleep
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Experiencing poor quality sleep
  • Feeling less refreshed in the morning

Not only can tinnitus be the cause of sleep disruption, the lack of sleep itself then aggravates the tinnitus further.

Why is Tinnitus so Disruptive to Sleep?

Usually, it's because bedrooms are designed to be quiet and the world outside quietens down too. Noises during the day often drown out the tinnitus sound and many people even say that their tinnitus only affects them at night

Stress, Anxiety & Sleep

Tinnitus can cause frustration and anxiety at all times but especially when people are trying to fall asleep. Not being able to fall asleep leads to more anxiety and the tinnitus is heard even more and the this is the vicious cycle that occurs between tinnitus, sleep and anxiety/stress.


Imagine you're about to try and drop off in you're quiet bedroom and you immediately tune in to the noises in your head. You try to think of something else but you can't. You then start to believe that you'll never be able to fall asleep as long as you can hear your tinnitus. You naturally then start to worry how you'll cope the next day with no sleep and before long, you’re both mentally stimulated bringing your brain to alertness. It also creates physical arousal, raising heart rate and body temperature.

 

Unfortunately sleep anxiety can lead to the development of common bad habits that will further undermine quality sleep:

  • Sleeping late or at odd times during the day
  • Relying on alcohol or other drugs as a sleep aid
  • Scrolling through your smartphone or watching TV when you can’t sleep in the middle of the night

Effective Strategies to Help You Sleep with Tinnitus

You will undoubtedly find strategies here that are extremely useful and others that just aren't for you. You will probably make your own adaptions so that our strategies work better for you personally. This is all fine because there really is no right or wrong way when it comes to tinnitus. Any advice offered on this or any other website regarding tinnitus should be used as a framework and just because something works for someone else definitely doesn't mean they've found the 'cure' for everyone.

1. See a Tinnitus Specialising Audiologist

An audiologist with an in-depth knowledge of tinnitus will help you understand the hearing system and why you are hearing your tinnitus. This is the first step to thinking about your tinnitus in a different way and once this is ingrained in your subconscious, you can start applying the other techniques with increased success. Remember the vicious cycle and that it's your anxiety about your tinnitus not allowing you to sleep that's causing the sleep disruption and making your tinnitus 'worse'. Knowing more about something reduces our anxiety about it. Our Tinnitus Self Help Guide will also help you with this.

2. Avoid a Quiet Bedroom

This can be tricky if you sleep with a partner. They may not like the fan going or the window open, etc. There are products available that allow you to keep all the sound to yourself.

  • Pillow speakers - a speaker inside your pillow should keep the sound personal to you.
  • SleepPhones - these are like soft sports headbands with thin speakers inside 

If you sleep alone or have a partner that is more receptive then there are plenty of sound generators available and you'll find a number of apps with loads of sound choices that can connect to a speaker. It might be pleasant for you both to drop off on the beach or by a small babbling brook! This might be all you need to break the vicious cycle. Visit our store to see the products that are most recommended by our audiologists.

3. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is one of the best, most effective strategies for breaking this cycle. A 2017 UK hospital study showed that both relaxation and mindfulness therapy are both effective treatments for tinnitus and mindfulness is superior to relaxation. To learn more about tinnitus and how to help yourself through mindfulness, please download our free Tinnitus Self Help Guide.

You can also play our free 10 minute guided mindfulness meditation for tinnitus.


4. Wear Hearing Aids

If you have a hearing loss, simply correcting the hearing will remove the perception of your tinnitus in 80% of cases. You may still not be able to hear your tinnitus, or at a quieter level, once the hearing aids are removed long enough for you to fall asleep. This is due to a process called residual inhibition. We can actually test whether this is an effective strategy during a tinnitus assessment. Most of the remaining 20% can still be helped with hearing aids using further audiological strategies. You may not even know you have any hearing loss until you've had a hearing test. A hearing test forms part of a tinnitus assessment and is a good starting point in positively doing something about your tinnitus. They can even help when you don't have a hearing loss as they can be programmed to use the tinnitus module without any amplification.

5. Relaxation Techniques

There are a number of relaxation techniques and most of them are more accessible than meditation mainly because they are quick. Michael J. Breus, PHD, The Sleep Doctor recommends a deep breathing exercise known as the 4-7-8 method as deliberate, relaxed breathing can help move the body into the slower breathing patterns that are associated with sleep:

  • Inhale for 4 seconds
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds
  • Exhale for 8 seconds
  • Repeat several times

6. Sleep Hygiene

This is all about having a routine and there will be plenty of variations and you should try them all. However, make sure to have some kind of a routine. There are also all kinds of herbal remedies to aid sleep and sometimes medication must become part of the solution but most people would prefer to make sure that all the other more natural avenues have been tried first. Below are a few sensible suggestions:

  • Only go to bed when you’re tired and ready for sleep, not when you think you should
  • Don’t do any other activities in bed (TV/Reading etc.)
  • Get up at the same time every morning, regardless of how poor the night's sleep has been
  • Get up and do a low-level activity if sleep doesn’t come after about half an hour
  • Only go back to bed when you are feeling tired and ready to sleep
  • Try not to have a hot bath or hot drink just before going to bed
  • Don’t have a snack or hot drink if you wake in the night
  • Don’t nap during the day

7. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is highly effective in treating tinnitus, insomnia and stress/anxiety/depression. These are the elements that form the vicious cycle. You only need to break one of them and you can start feeling yourself again. When CBT is used alongside sound therapy, you have the best chance of success. CBT can sometimes be provided by your audiologist but more usually by a separate clinician and both are effective.

Good sleep is essential to quality of life. Not being able to fall asleep quickly or not being able to go back to sleep is a common problem with tinnitus sufferers. Try the 7 techniques above which have been proven to work for many people. If they aren't working as effectively as you'd like then do see your doctor and/or a tinnitus specialising audiologist.