Bedtime: For most people, it’s a wonderfully relaxing experience. The day’s work is done. Your house is quiet, your bed is warm, and you look forward to reading a good book or catching up on the day’s news before surrendering to a deep and uninterrupted sleep.
But as evening approaches, some people feel nothing but dread. For them, it’s a time of restlessness, anxiety, frustration, irritation and desperation. Yes, for the 50 million Americans struggling with tinnitus, bedtime is the least relaxing part of the day.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is sound in your head that doesn’t have an external source. While many people describe it as a ringing sound, others experience it as whistling, buzzing, chirping, hissing, humming, roaring, a heartbeat or even shrieking.
The noise can be loud or soft, occasional or constant, a mild annoyance or a debilitating chronic condition that affects your quality of life.
Why do Tinnitus Patients Struggle More at Night?
Many people living with tinnitus can function quite well during the day. Their minds are busy concentrating on work, chores, errands, kids—the day-to-day things that keep us occupied and present. Also, whether we realize it or not, the daytime is filled with noise.
Televisions, cars, radios, air conditioners, background conversations—all of these things provide the soundtrack to our waking lives.
But at nighttime, all the to-do lists get put away, and all the sounds of the day go quiet. Most people find peace in the silence—but tinnitus patients find unrelenting noise.
How Does Tinnitus Lead to Insomnia?
Many tinnitus sufferers assume that the noise in their head is keeping them awake. That’s not quite true. In fact, it’s your brain’s response to the tinnitus that makes it harder to fall asleep.
You see, some people with tinnitus are generally unbothered by the ringing.
They notice it now and then, but to them it’s a background noise—easily ignored and forgotten. But many fixate on their tinnitus symptoms. They worry about it. Concentrate on it intensely, especially when it’s most noticeable: as they are trying to sleep.
That obsession spikes feelings of anxiety. The more they fixate on their tinnitus, the more anxious they become. The lack of sleep perpetuates feelings of fear about bedtime as sufferers learn to dread the hours of tossing and turning that lie ahead. It’s a vicious cycle, but it can be broken.
How can Tinnitus Sufferers get Better Sleep?
Better sleep requires building better sleep habits. Here are some tips tinnitus patients can use to get a quality night’s rest.
- Get perspective. It’s important to remember that you can’t worry tinnitus away. Remind yourself that it’s just a sound, it can’t hurt you and if you’ve had a flare up or a worsening of your symptoms, it’s no big deal. Healing is often a process of two-steps-forward, one-step-back, so cut yourself some slack. You can get back to work on improving your tinnitus symptoms tomorrow.
- Talk to your doctor. They may be able to offer relief, including options for prescription medications. While sleep medications may not be a good long-term solution, they can often break a streak of insomnia allowing you to reset your sleep cycle.
- Find a good therapist. Specifically, look for a psychologist that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). In CBT, your therapist will teach you coping skills and strategies for challenging your negative thoughts, which can lessen them and break the cycle of anxiety. ACT is similar to CBT, though instead of challenging the thoughts, it teaches you to live peacefully with negative emotions and experiences, which can greatly lessen your anxious response to tinnitus.
- Limit or give up stimulants that aggravate tinnitus. These include coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and nicotine.
- Exercise and keep active during the day. People who are active and at a healthy weight experience fewer tinnitus symptoms that their heavier counterparts. Also, exercise helps to tire your out, making falling asleep much easier. Consider an exercise routine that includes a relaxation component, like yoga, qi gong or tai chi.
- Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime. TV, phones, tablets … all of these can get your brain moving, and a busy mind makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Keep the bedroom a place for sleep, rest and intimacy only. Don’t watch television, play with your phone or do work in bed.
- Keep a strict sleep routine. Turn the light off right when you get into bed, get up at the same time each day (even on weekends) and avoid naps that can throw off your sleep cycle.
- Don’t try. Tell yourself that sleep will come when it’s ready. If you are not asleep in 25 to 30 minutes, get up and go to another room. Do something relaxing like reading and go back to bed when you feel sleepy again. Repeat the process if you are not asleep in another 30 minutes.
- Create white noise. Play some mild classic music or turn on a fan.
- Consider natural insomnia remedies. These can include melatonin, chamomile tea, valerian and effervescent magnesium drinks like Natural Calm™. As always, before you add a supplement to your diet, always speak to your doctor.