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Hearing Loss and Sleep

Hearing Loss and Sleep

Think of the last time you were trying to sleep in a noisy environment. Maybe it was a time when there was a party nearby and you could only hear the din of voices and music all night long. Perhaps you were disturbed by an infant periodically crying throughout the night. Some people are such light sleepers that they can be kept awake by a dog trotting in an upstairs apartment, a person snoring nearby, or even the squeal of a radiator or a refrigerator whirring in the kitchen.

Sleeping with competing noise is indeed difficult, and even if that noise does not wake you up, it can disturb restful sleep. In order to feel rested, our bodies and minds need two types of sleep.

Rapid Eye Movement Sleep and Delta Sleep

The first is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. In this mode, our minds are relatively active and can be dreaming. Another very important form of sleep is one with very low brain activity, in which slow brain waves move the mind into relaxation, otherwise known as Delta sleep. This mode of sleep tends to be deep and dreamless, and it is crucial for the formation of memories and mood regulation. Sounds can disturb this form of sleep even among those who don’t fully wake up. If you are unable to achieve Delta sleep, you might wake up feeling tired and desiring more rest. 

If a person has hearing loss, you might imagine that they would sleep more restfully due to the absence of distracting sounds. Without the ability to hear them, a person might be able to log enough hours sleeping and also to achieve deeply restful Delta sleep. Indeed, some people do report this experience. Some people who develop hearing loss later in life find it a relief to sleep undistracted, and some do have more restful sleep. However, this is not the only experience of hearing loss and sleep. A number of confounding factors can lead to hearing loss alongside sleep disorders.

Hearing Loss and Sleep

One of the biggest differences in the relationship between sleep and hearing loss is the degree and time at which hearing loss occurs. Those who are totally deaf have a different relationship with sleep, due to the changing sensory inputs they use for alertness. In addition, those who are born with severe hearing loss or deafness, otherwise known as congenital hearing loss, have never known another way of hearing. Their experience of sleep will be dependent on a number of other factors, and hearing impairment is a constant in their lives. One of the intervening factors between congenital hearing impairment and sleep is the correlation with insomnia. Sleep disorders such as insomnia are much more common among those with congenital hearing impairment. One of the reasons so many deaf and severely hearing-impaired people experience insomnia is a related condition: depression. Both insomnia and depression are common among those with congenital hearing impairment.

How about those who develop hearing loss later in life? As we know, most people who reach older age also incur some form of hearing loss. Though some might welcome the absence of sounds that had formerly disturbed sleep, we know that is not always the case. Some remain hyperaware in other ways, due to the unsettling feeling of hearing loss. A general state of anxiety can set in, a worry that you might be surprised or unaware of an emergency due to hearing loss. This state of anxiety and vigilance can lead to less restful sleep. Those with tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, also experience a frustration and anxiety due to the constant sound. That sound can even keep them awake.

Orange County Physicians’ Hearing Services

If you have trouble sleeping, you might wonder if hearing loss or another condition such as tinnitus might play a part. Take the opportunity to consult with us at Orange County Physicians’ Hearing Services for a comprehensive hearing exam. By getting your hearing checked, you will find out if you are eligible for hearing aids, and you might even find out something about the reason you are struggling to sleep. The mind is a fascinating nexus of consciousness, sensation, and understanding, and changes in any of those dimensions can have profound effects on the others. With that in mind, it is no surprise that hearing loss can affect sleep in such significant ways.