We all know the importance and value of adequate sleep. It gives your body time to replenish and re-energize for the next day. Good sleep is necessary to maintain overall health and when we don’t get it, we feel the effects immediately: tired, sluggish, irritable, unable to focus etc. Lack of sleep also impacts our auditory system which is how we hear, process, and understand sound. Common sleep disorders can affect the nerve endings, blood vessels, and blood flow in our ears which all contribute to effective hearing. It is important to be aware of the ways in which issues with sleep can contribute to the development of hearing loss and what you can do to reduce your risk!
Common Sleep Disorders
According to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder. Two of the most common sleep disorders are insomnia and sleep apnea.
- Insomnia: is the most common sleep disorder impacting nearly 30% of adults. Insomnia refers to the difficulty of falling and staying asleep, and/or waking up prematurely and unable to go back to sleep. Insomnia can be short or long term as well as intermittent. Acute insomnia can last one day and chronic insomnia can last for months.
- Sleep Apnea: impacts 25 million adults and is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. This happens repeatedly during sleep which impacts how much oxygen the body is receiving. Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common type, results from tissue in the back of the throat collapsing which causes a blockage in the airway.
These (and other) sleep disorders are connected to other medical conditions and factors that can also impact the various components vital to our hearing.
Sleep Disorders and Hearing Loss
Growing research has shown a link between common sleep disorders and hearing loss. In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers investigated the relationship between sleep apnea and hearing loss. The study involved nearly 14,000 participants and researchers found that those with sleep apnea were 30% more likely to also have hearing loss. Research findings show the correlation between sleep apnea and hearing loss but how exactly are they related?
Sleep disorders, specifically sleep apnea, is caused by obesity, high blood pressure, and stress. These conditions which significantly impact cardiovascular health cause inflammation and impact blood circulation throughout the body. When blood vessels and arteries are inflamed, blood flow is restricted to parts in the body including the inner ear. The inner ear is filled with thousands of hair cells that detect and translate soundwaves into electrical signals for the brain to receive, process, and understand. This is how we are able to understand what we hear. When blood flow to the inner ear is blocked or restricted, the tiny hair cells can be damaged resulting in hearing loss.
In addition to contributing to hearing loss, these circulatory issues caused by sleep disorders can worsen tinnitus. A common symptom of hearing loss, tinnitus is a buzzing or ringing noise in one or both ears. The constant experience of tinnitus can be disruptive, making it challenging to focus and complete tasks with ease.
Hearing loss often happens gradually so you may not notice any changes to your hearing for quite some time. But if you are familiar with tinnitus and have trouble sleeping, it could be useful to schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare provider to have your hearing assessed. Hearing tests involve a noninvasive, and relatively quick process that examines your hearing in both ears to determine any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be experiencing. Luckily, there are several useful ways that hearing loss is effectively treated. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are small electronic devices that are designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound; significantly increasing one’s ability to hear.
If you experience issues with sleep or have noticed any changes to your hearing, it is incredibly important to be evaluated by a member of our team. Early detection and addressing any conditions can drastically help provide you with effective treatment that can improve your overall health! Contact us today to learn more.