There’s nothing worse than tossing and turning in bed when you just want to fall asleep.
That restless feeling of watching the minutes tick by, knowing you’re going to feel terrible in the morning…it’s so stressful.
But when you live with tinnitus, the medical term for ringing in the ears, it’s an everyday problem.
The constant noise is impossible to ignore and it can keep you up for hours. It’s also a vicious cycle – sleep deprivation will make your tinnitus worse.
But just because there isn’t a cure for tinnitus doesn’t mean you have to suffer endlessly each night.
With the right approach, you can quickly fall into a deep, restful sleep.
Sleep Deprivation and Tinnitus:
Sleep deprivation can have devastating consequences on even the healthiest adults. But for those of us living with tinnitus, it can crank up your stress levels and make everything so much more difficult.
In the short term, sleep deprivation will reduce your cognitive performance and alertness, even after just one night of poor sleep. It will start to affect your memory too. Lack of sleep can also decrease your ability to handle stress, while at the same time increasing your overall stress load. It will depress your immune system and may increase levels of inflammation throughout your body.
But the long-term effects of chronic sleep deprivation are even worse: high blood pressure, higher risk of heart attack and heart failure, higher risk of stroke, obesity, mental health issues such as anxiety disorders and depression, attention disorders such as ADD, a decrease in emotional intelligence, and an overall reduction in quality of life.
When I don’t get enough sleep for several days in a row, my health starts to break down and my tinnitus spikes. I know many of you can relate to this.
But there are specific things that you can do today to improve your sleep.
Improve your sleep routine:
One of the best ways to train yourself to fall asleep faster is to keep a fixed sleep routine. The idea here is simple. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, and every night before you go to bed, follow a fixed routine. Before long, your brain will associate the routine with falling asleep, and you’ll be yawning before you even get in bed.
Set your alarm for the perfect amount of sleep:
We sleep in repeating 90-minute sleep cycles. Each cycle consists of a period of physically restorative deep sleep, mentally restorative REM sleep, and a transition period of light sleep. If you find yourself constantly waking up tired after a full night sleep, try this simple trick. Set your alarm to wake you after 7.5 hours or 9 hours of sleep, instead of the “standard 8 hours”. This corresponds to five or six complete sleep cycles. If you wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle, you may be groggier than usual. This simple change prevents that.
Turn off back-lit screens 90 minutes before bed time:
Our bodies maintain an internal day/night cycle called the circadian rhythm. During the day, sunlight triggers our bodies to secrete daytime hormones. Later, in the absence of sunlight, our brains secrete a hormone called melatonin that lets us know that it’s time to get ready for sleep.
Unfortunately, the bright blue light spectrum emitted from our various screens mimics sunlight, and causes the brain to shut down melatonin production. Watching TV, reading on an iPad, or playing games on a phone before going to bed can make it much harder to fall asleep.
The best thing you can do is simply to turn off all backlit screens 90 minutes before bedtime. Read a book (a paper book, not an eBook) instead or spend time with loved ones.
But you can also take steps to block out the blue light spectrum from your devices. You can get a pair of special sun glasses that accomplishes this (inexpensive option, clip-on lenses, Blublocker brand), or you can install an app that does it for you. (F.Lux for Computers) (Twilight for Android Devices) (iOS has this feature built in: Go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift)
Write down all your thoughts:
When you’re trying to fall asleep, a lot of the mental chatter you experience is the result of trying to hold too many things in your mind at once. You can quiet your thoughts by taking a few minutes to write down everything on your mind right before going to sleep. You’ll find that you can fall asleep much more easily when your thoughts and ideas are safely written down.
Cut out Caffeine:
Caffeine can make it very difficult to fall asleep and will affect the quality of your sleep, especially if consumed in the afternoon or evening. It’s also a common tinnitus trigger because caffeine stimulates the nervous system in a big way. When your tinnitus is bothering you, your nervous system is already overstimulated, and drinking caffeine can strengthen your stress response.
If you are just starting to work on your tinnitus, I recommend cutting out caffeine entirely. You can always return to it later on, but for now, stick to decaf. Caffeine can be an obstacle to habituation and removing it can immediately improve the quality of your sleep. At the very least, cut back on your overall caffeine intake and avoid it completely within eight hours of going to sleep.
Make your bedroom pitch black:
If you have a lot of ambient light coming into your bedroom, it can disturb your sleep. Nightlights, cable boxes, alarm clocks, and street lights are all common offenders. You want to make your room as dark as possible. Most department stores sell blackout curtains that will completely block out any light coming in from the outside. But make sure to also cover every source of light inside your bedroom, no matter how small. This is something you can do right now to improve the quality of your sleep.
Alternatively, you can wear a sleep mask that covers your eyes. It works just as well, though some people find it uncomfortable.
Make your bedroom colder:
Studies have shown that we get the best sleep when the temperature in the room is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s much colder than most people would think, and it has to do with an internal process called thermoregulation. Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter, explains: “When it’s time for your body to rest, there is an automatic drop in your core body temperature to help initiate sleep. If the temperature in your environment stays too high, then it can be a bit of a physiological challenge for your body to get into the ideal state for restful sleep.”
If the temperature is much warmer or cooler than the optimum range, it might impact your sleep. But you also don’t want to be cold. You need to feel comfortable under your blankets. So wearing socks is a good option if your feet get cold at this temperature.
Use a sound machine (If you still have your hearing):
People tend to sleep the best in absolute silence. But when you live with tinnitus, silence is a challenge, because our tinnitus seems so much louder. So we need a different approach. If you still have your hearing, one option is to use background noise to create a wall of sound that masks not only the sound of your tinnitus, but any other sounds that might otherwise wake you up.
Sound machines and white noise generators work well for this purpose, but a Bluetooth speaker paired to your smartphone works even better. There are thousands of sound therapy apps giving you a large variety of sounds to choose from.
Use Brainwave Entrainment to Induce Sleep:
Brainwave Entrainment is an audio technology that can induce specific changes in your mental state, and how you feel, with nothing but sound.
How you feel changes your brainwaves in a very specific way. In fact, there is a predictable and measurable brainwave pattern directly associated with every possible mental state. But amazingly, the opposite is also true. You can change your mental state, and how you feel, by changing your brainwaves with an external audio stimulus.
By synchronizing your brainwave patterns to the frequencies that correspond with falling asleep, you can drift off in a matter of minutes. All you have to do is press play. It’s that easy.
I have created a pay-what-you-want (free if you want it to be) album of Brainwave Entrainment tracks called Rewiring Tinnitus Sleep Relief that is engineered to help tinnitus sufferers fall asleep faster.
As long as you have some of your hearing left in one of your ears, you can see results.
Use your tinnitus as a tool to fall asleep faster:
If you’ve read my book, or followed me for any length of time, you know that I was able to habituate to the sound of my tinnitus and find relief with tinnitus focused meditation.
What you may not know is that you can use a variation of the technique to fall asleep faster.
The following technique is taken directly from my book, Rewiring Tinnitus:
The Tinnitus Sleep Induction Technique:
Close your eyes and take five deep breaths into your diaphragm (lower abdomen). Feel your stomach expand as you inhale, and with each exhale, feel your entire body becoming more and more relaxed. Let all your muscles go completely limp.
Now focus on individual muscle groups, one at a time, relaxing each as much as possible before moving on. Let all the tension dissolve as you work your way through your body.
Start with your feet and your toes. Let all of the muscles go completely limp. Now focus on your legs and your butt. Release all the tension. Continue on to your stomach and your lower back, then your chest and upper back, your shoulders and your arms, your hands and your fingers, your neck and your throat, and finally, your head and your face.
Take a deep breath. Now that your muscles are completely relaxed, focus your attention on the sound of your tinnitus. Maintain a mindset of curiosity, as if you were observing something interesting for the first time. Continue to breathe naturally and keep your mind focused on the sound. If and when your mind starts to wander, and you notice it, gently bring your focus back to the sound. Do this for several minutes.
Finally, imagine that your bed is inside an elevator that’s descending deep underground with the doors still open. Imagine that the elevator shaft is made of dirt and rocks, and as you descend, watch the walls as they appear to be moving up, as your bed sinks deeper and deeper down the elevator shaft. Try to sense the sinking with your entire body. You may be surprised to find that it actually feels like the bed is moving down beneath you. Hold this in your imagination for as long as you can. Feel the bed sinking, down and down and down. Deeper and deeper down. (Mentally repeat, “Down and down and down. Deeper and deeper and deeper down.” for as long as you are able.)
By this point, you should be on the verge of falling asleep, or at the very least, deeply relaxed. This technique becomes more effective the more often you practice it. Your body will start to associate the routine with falling asleep.
I’ve lived with loud tinnitus for a long time and falling asleep has always been one of my biggest challenges. But things are different now. My tinnitus no longer bothers me, my stress levels have dropped, and I can even fall asleep without white noise.
If your tinnitus is keeping you up at night, I hope you’ll try some of these suggestions. Because once you start getting better sleep, your tinnitus will improve. No matter how you choose to treat your tinnitus, you’ll have a much better chance of success when you’re well rested.
It can make all the difference in the world.