At Night, the Ringing in my Ears Seems Worse

Man in bed at night suffering insomnia from severe tinnitus and ringing in the ear.

Tinnitus often gets worse at night for most of the millions of people in the US that suffer with it. But what’s the reason for this? The ringing or buzzing in one or both ears is not an actual noise but a side-effect of a medical issue like hearing loss, either lasting or temporary. Naturally, knowing what it is won’t explain why you have this buzzing, ringing, or whooshing noise more often during the night.

The real reason is fairly straightforward. To know why your tinnitus gets louder as you attempt to sleep, you need to understand the hows and whys of this extremely common medical issue.

Tinnitus, what is it?

To say tinnitus is not a real sound just adds to the confusion, but, for most people, that is the case. The person with tinnitus can hear the sound but nobody else can. Your partner sleeping next to you in bed can’t hear it even though it sounds like a maelstrom to you.

Tinnitus is an indication that something is not right, not a disorder by itself. It is generally linked to significant hearing loss. For many, tinnitus is the first sign they get that their hearing is at risk. People with hearing loss often don’t recognize their condition until the tinnitus symptoms begin because it progresses so gradually. This phantom noise is a warning flag to notify you of a change in how you hear.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is one of medical science’s biggest mysteries and doctors don’t have a strong understanding of why it happens. It could be a symptom of inner ear damage or numerous other possible medical conditions. The inner ear has many tiny hair cells designed to vibrate in response to sound waves. Tinnitus can indicate there’s damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from transmitting electrical messages to the brain. These electrical signals are how the brain translates sound into something it can clearly comprehend like a car horn or someone speaking.

The current theory regarding tinnitus is about the absence of sound. Your brain will start to fill in for signals that it’s not getting because of hearing loss. It attempts to compensate for sound that it’s not receiving.

When it comes to tinnitus, that would clarify a few things. For one, why it’s a symptom of so many different ailments that affect the ear: minor infections, concussions, and age-related hearing loss. That could also be why the symptoms get worse at night sometimes.

Why are tinnitus sounds worse at night?

You may not even detect it, but your ear is picking up some sounds during the day. It hears really faintly the music or the TV playing somewhere close by. But at night, when you’re trying to sleep, it gets very quiet.

Suddenly, all the sound vanishes and the level of confusion in the brain increases in response. It only knows one thing to do when confronted with total silence – generate noise even if it isn’t real. Sensory deprivation has been shown to induce hallucinations as the brain attempts to insert information, like auditory input, into a place where there isn’t any.

In other words, it’s too quiet at night so your tinnitus seems louder. If you are having a hard time sleeping because your tinnitus symptoms are so loud, creating some noise might be the answer.

Creating noise at night

For some individuals dealing with tinnitus, all they need is a fan running in the background. The volume of the ringing is lowered just by the sound of the fan motor.

But you can also buy devices that are specifically made to reduce tinnitus sounds. Environmental sounds, like ocean waves or rain, are generated by these “white noise machines”. If you were to keep a TV on, it might be disruptive, but white noise machines create soothing sounds that you can sleep through. Instead, you could try an app that plays soothing sounds from your smartphone.

What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?

Lack of sound isn’t the only thing that can trigger an increase in your tinnitus. Too much alcohol before bed can lead to more extreme tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus also tends to worsen if you’re stressed out and certain medical problems can trigger a flare-up, too, like high blood pressure. If introducing sound into your nighttime routine doesn’t help or you feel dizzy when the ringing is present, it’s time to find out about treatment solutions by making an appointment with us right away.


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.