Sleep can be a struggle for many patients with tinnitus. However, there are 8 tips for sleeping better with tinnitus. We consistently recommend these sleep techniques to the patients we work with at Treble Health, and have seen patients achieve consistent success with them.
When it comes to sleeping with tinnitus, you have to answer two questions about how tinnitus is affecting your sleep.
Does your tinnitus make it harder to fall asleep?
Does your tinnitus make it harder to stay asleep?
Moreover, think about how many hours of sleep you manage to get with tinnitus. On average, humans should be getting six to eight hours of sleep per night, and that recommendation doesn’t change if you have tinnitus. It’s common for tinnitus patients to report insomnia and anxiety for up to months at a time, but this doesn’t have to be the case, as we’ll discuss below.
Before understanding how we can sleep better with tinnitus, it’s necessary to understand habituation. Habituation is the process by which the brain reduces the perception of sound over time. Just how we might “habituate” to the sound of our own breathing, we can achieve the same effect with our tinnitus. Over time, the brain can learn to recategorize the sound of tinnitus from a potential threat or annoyance to just another sound. As this happens, the volume of tinnitus will often diminish.
#1: Perform a Sleep Audit
A sleep audit involves looking closely at your own sleep habits. First, look at how you spend the hour before going to sleep, and make sure you’re not looking at screens or doing anything to excite your nervous system. Second, look at your environment, and see if you can implement a tinnitus sound therapy plan, either by using a sleep headband or having a sound machine run in the background. Sound therapy can help tremendously in taking your mind off tinnitus and enabling you to drift off to sleep. Finally, look to your body, and see if you can adopt breathwork or other relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, as a way of further calming the nervous system.
Insomnia and difficulty sleeping can just as easily be aggravated by a hyperactive mind (which often may be heightening tinnitus as well), so it’s crucial to examine your habits and see if there’s opportunities to incorporate techniques to support sound sleep.
#2: Only Take Medications If Necessary
While most types of medications are safe for sleep and tinnitus, it’s best to only use them if they are helping you reestablish healthy sleeping patterns. No single medication has been clinically shown to directly reduce tinnitus, so if you are taking a medication that is reducing tinnitus, it is probably only doing so indirectly (for example, by reducing anxiety or stress). Some supplements like magnesium have been shown to promote better sleep. All in all, always be sure to consult your doctor, and only use medications to establish normal sleeping patterns under their supervision. Once you’ve established sleep consistency, you can then look into tapering off your medications.
#3: Change How You Fall Back to Sleep
Some patients may struggle more with staying asleep than falling asleep, and may find themselves waking up in the middle of the night to their tinnitus. If this sounds like you, you should consider how you go about returning to sleep. Most patients resign themselves to tossing and turning for hours on end. However, research in the field of cognitive behavioral therapy has shown that, in these instances, it is actually more useful to go to a different room, sit in a chair, focus on your breathing, and wait until you start to get tired. Once you do, you can then return to your bed, and you will likely find it much easier to return to sleep.
#4: Experiment with Sound Therapy
As alluded to earlier, sound therapy can serve as a foundational component of a welcoming sleep environment. We recommend playing a sound that is pleasant, comfortable, and unobtrusive. This can be something as simple as running a ceiling fan or keeping a window open. Others may find that they need a little bit more; in this case, consider looking into wearable sound therapy devices (such as the Bose Sleepbuds) or sound machines (such as Sound Oasis), which are capable of reproducing a variety of natural sounds and noises. Regardless, don’t think of sound therapy as a crutch—evolutionarily, humans are programmed to sleep in noisy environments, and it’s only recently that we started to think we needed absolute silence in order to sleep.
#5: Experiment with Sleep Audio
In addition to sound therapy, guided sleep audio can be another great way to soothe the nervous system and help fall asleep faster. Guided sleep audio routines work to replace the mind’s obtrusive chatter with a soothing, calming voice that helps you quiet the mind and ultimately fall asleep. Most of these routines are easily accessible via YouTube, Spotify, and other apps (Calm, Oto, etc.) and typically last 15 minutes to an hour.
Meditation can be a great practice to implement in the final hour leading up to sleep. Meditation involves focusing on bodily sensations—such as the breath—and observing your thoughts. While simple in practice, meditation creates space between negative thoughts and our reactions to these thoughts, and thereby works to calm the mind and body. For those struggling with tinnitus-induced anxiety and stress, meditation can be a great practice to ease the nervous system and settle the mind before sleep. There are many guided routines available online; otherwise, feel free to simply follow the breath and observe thoughts as they arise, withholding any judgment as you do.
#7: Body Scans
Similar to meditation, body scans are another technique that works to settle the mind and body. One type of body scan is called progressive muscle relaxation. While there are many variations available online, a progressive muscle relaxation routine essentially entails lying down and focusing on different muscle groups by gradually tensing and relaxing them for a certain amount of time (such as one breath in and one breath out). You generally work from the top of the body towards the bottom, or vice versa, with the hope that in doing so, you make it easy for the body to drift off to sleep. Other types of body scans achieve a similar benefit, but may involve more observing and awareness than in progressive muscle relaxation.
We’ve likely all tried “counting sheep” at some point to help with falling asleep. As elementary as this may seem, counting is a great way to help ease the mind to sleep and distract it from focusing on tinnitus. This may involve similar activities like counting up, counting down, or performing simple math, as well as slightly more complex activities like listing as many words that begin with a specific letter.
I hope you’ve found these eight techniques helpful, and have taken away something to apply in your life. Overall, it’s important to remember that difficulty sleeping is not necessarily something created by tinnitus, but rather a condition that can affect us at any point. Hopefully, with these techniques, you’ll be able to achieve a better sleep routine. If you or someone you know is struggling with tinnitus, then sign up for a free consultation through Treble Health. We would love to connect you with one of our audiologists and talk more about possible treatment options.
What To Do Next For Tinnitus
Still on the hunt for the best tinnitus sound therapy? Don’t feel lost. At Treble Health, we have compiled a comprehensive consumer guide to the best tinnitus devices on the market. Click here to get the Tinnitus Guide: 2022 Edition.
Want to speak with an expert audiologist about your options for tinnitus treatment instead? At the tap of a finger, you can schedule a free Treble Health Tinnitus Consultation today! You’ll be connected with a real audiologist, not a salesperson, and there is no obligation or commitment.