For many people, hopping into bed at night isn’t the relaxing experience it should be.
Instead of gently nodding off, those living with tinnitus often find themselves lying awake, unable to drift off because of an incessant ringing or buzzing sound in one or both ears.
Tinnitus usually occurs when our brain is trying to compensate for some form of hearing loss and is often most noticeable at night because there are fewer external noises to drown it out.
Tinnitus is most commonly a symptom of problems with the auditory system, such as those caused by exposure to loud noises or middle-ear conditions, although the issue can be as simple as an excess of earwax.
The brain tries to fill the audio void by searching for a signal, which results in a ringing or buzzing sound.
Australian Hearing audiologist Catherine Hart says the most effective way to combat tinnitus at night is to use a sound therapy device, such as the Sound Oasis, to flood the auditory system with low-level noise that subdues the symptoms.
“It’s important not to completely drown out the tinnitus all the time,” she says.
“At night when you need more of a sleeping aid than anything else, you just want low-level sound.”
The Sound Oasis is programmed with 24 soothing sounds and looks similar to a small speaker or alarm clock.
It uses specially designed sounds to target a range of tinnitus symptoms. Each sound in the device is set to a specific audio frequency, which Australian Hearing can match to your specific tinnitus pitch.
This means the tracks you choose to play will be perfectly tailored to you.
A simple hearing test will determine the pitch of your tinnitus and your audiologist will set the Sound Oasis to complement it.
Rather than drowning out the sound of your tinnitus, Hart says it’s best to use devices like the Sound Oasis to help train your brain to ignore the symptoms.
“It’s important to still hear the tinnitus sometimes because we can’t habituate to something we don’t hear,” she says, explaining that the aim is to reduce the noise to something we’re comfortable with, not annoyed by.
“The brain needs to hear the tinnitus so that over time it can desensitise to it and learn to recognise it, like a refrigerator motor running instead of a mozzie.”
The best way to get a handle on your tinnitus and stop it from interrupting your sleep every night is to learn how to manage it effectively.
Alongside sound therapy devices, Australian Hearing recommends establishing a routine to help you wind down at the end of the day and prepare for sleep.
Exercising, although not too close to bedtime, and reducing stimulants such as coffee and alcohol after lunch have been shown to help promote sleep.
Australian Hearing recommends using your sleep therapy device to help you when you’re finding your tinnitus particularly bothersome. This could be every night or only occasionally.
Choose a sound that you find soothing and relaxing and allow your mind to wander instead of focusing on the tinnitus.
Hart says that with regular practice and the right tools, many people learn to master their tinnitus by becoming able to ignore the symptoms.
“The presence of the tinnitus isn’t really the issue,” she says. “It’s how people react to it that matters.”
Do you have tinnitus? How do you manage it? Would you try a sound therapy device if it would help?