At Night, the Buzzing in my Ears Seems Louder

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

If you are one of the millions of individuals in the U.S. suffering from a medical disorder called tinnitus then you most likely know that it often gets worse when you are trying to go to sleep. But why should this be? The ringing is a phantom noise caused by some medical condition like hearing loss, it isn’t an outside sound. Of course, knowing what it is won’t clarify why you have this buzzing, ringing, or whooshing noise more often at night.

The reality is more common sense than you might think. To know why your tinnitus gets louder as you try to sleep, you need to know the hows and whys of this extremely common medical problem.

What is tinnitus?

For the majority of people, tinnitus isn’t an actual sound, but this fact just adds to the confusion. It’s a noise no one else is able to hear. Your partner sleeping next to you in bed can’t hear it even though it sounds like a maelstrom to you.

Tinnitus alone isn’t a disease or condition, but a sign that something else is wrong. Substantial hearing loss is normally at the base of this condition. For many, tinnitus is the first indication they get that their hearing is in jeopardy. Hearing loss tends to be gradual, so they don’t notice it until that ringing or buzzing begins. This phantom noise is a warning flag to signal you of a change in how you hear.

What causes tinnitus?

Right now medical scientists and doctors are still not sure of exactly what causes tinnitus. It might be a symptom of a number of medical problems including inner ear damage. The inner ear contains many tiny hair cells designed to vibrate in response to sound waves. Tinnitus can indicate there is damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from sending electrical signals to the brain. These electrical signals are how the brain translates sound into something it can clearly comprehend like a car horn or someone talking.

The absence of sound is the basis of the current theory. Your brain will start to fill in for signals that it’s waiting for because of hearing loss. It gets confused by the lack of feedback from the ear and tries to compensate for it.

That would explain some things about tinnitus. For starters, why it’s a symptom of so many different illnesses that impact the ear: minor infections, concussions, and age-related hearing loss. It also tells you something about why the ringing gets worse at night for some individuals.

Why are tinnitus sounds louder at night?

You may not even notice it, but your ear receives some sounds during the day. It will faintly pick up sounds coming from a different room or around the corner. But during the night, when you’re trying to sleep, it gets very quiet.

Suddenly, all the sound fades away and the level of confusion in the brain increases in response. When faced with total silence, it resorts to making its own internal sounds. Sensory deprivation has been demonstrated to trigger hallucinations as the brain attempts to insert information, such as auditory input, into a place where there isn’t any.

In other words, it’s too quiet at night so your tinnitus seems worse. Producing sound might be the solution for those who can’t sleep due to that annoying ringing in the ear.

How to produce noise at night

For some people dealing with tinnitus, all they require 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 get devices that are exclusively made to decrease 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 distracting, but white noise machines produce soothing sounds that you can sleep through. Your smartphone also has the capability to download apps that will play calming sounds.

What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?

Your tinnitus symptoms can be worsened by other things besides lack of sound. Too much alcohol before bed can lead to more extreme tinnitus symptoms. Other things, including high blood pressure and stress can also contribute to your symptoms. If introducing sound into your nighttime regimen doesn’t help or you feel dizzy when the ringing is present, it’s time to find out about treatment options by scheduling 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.