Hearing Loss and Sleep

Restful sleep is critical for the overall health of our bodies. We are all familiar with the impact of little, or disrupted sleep – lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, groggy, headache, irritability etc. Sleep allows the body to repair and regenerate all the vital components that actively work to sustain the body: blood vessels, muscles (including the heart), the brain, tissue etc. Consistent experience of sleep deficiency is correlated to an increased risk of various medical conditions including heart and kidney disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Lack of sleep can also contribute to the development of hearing loss.  

Common Sleep Disorders

Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. However, an estimated 35% of adults are receiving less than 7 hours of sleep. According to the American Sleep Association (ASA): 

  • 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder 
  • 37% of people between the ages of 20-39 report short sleep duration
    • 40% for adults ages 40-59

These statistics highlight that sleep deficiency is pervasive and chronic lack of sleep can result in different sleep disorders. 

  • Insomnia: is the most common sleep disorder. 30% of adults experience short term insomnia and 10% experience chronic insomnia. This sleep disorder makes it difficult to fall and/or stay asleep. Insomnia is most commonly caused by one’s circumstances: stress, overeating prior to sleep, travel or work schedule, bad sleeping habits (screens in bed, uncomfortable bed and/or room, eating etc.). Insomnia can also be caused by mental and physical health conditions: anxiety, depression, chronic pain, asthma, diabetes etc. 
  • Sleep Apnea: another common sleep disorder, sleep apnea impacts 25 million adults. This condition is when breathing momentarily and repeatedly pauses during sleep. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea which is when the throat muscles relax during sleep, causing the airways to become narrower and restricting airflow. This can result in snoring, choking, or gasping for air; opening your airways back up. This pattern can repeat itself throughout the duration of your sleep. Sleep apnea can be caused by obesity, genetic history, nasal congestion, and existing medical conditions.  

Insomnia and sleep apnea share similar symptoms: exhaustion, sluggishness, inability to focus, increased anxiousness and/or depression etc. Additionally, both conditions impact the auditory system which is responsible for how we hear. 

Sleep and Hearing Loss

The sense of hearing requires the effective function of the ears which absorb, amplify, and process sound. The ear consists three main components: 

  • Outer Ear: includes the most visible part of the ear as well as the ear canal and ear drum. 
  • Middle Ear: consists of three connected bones (known as the ossicles), and the eustachian tube which is responsible for maintaining pressure in the ear.
  • Inner Ear:  is composed of the cochlea – filled with thousands of hair cells and fluid, as well as nerve pathways leading to the brain.

These vital parts of the ear need adequate and healthy blood flow to collect and process soundwaves effectively. Sleep disorders are often linked to medical conditions such as obesity and high blood pressure. These conditions produce inflammation which can damage the thousands of nerve endings and blood vessels in the ear. Inflammation of the blood vessels in the ear restricts blood flow and healthy circulation which is integral for the process of hearing. 

Treating Hearing Loss

If you have trouble sleeping, it is important to consult with your doctor and identify underlying causes and treatment options. Additionally, you should have your hearing assessed to know if your difficulties with sleep have impacted your hearing health. 

The first step is to schedule an appointment for a hearing test with a hearing healthcare specialist. Hearing tests involve a noninvasive, and relatively quick process that measures your hearing ability to both ears, establishes any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be experiencing. This information outlines your hearing needs and informs the best treatment options for you. 

Fortunately, there are effective ways that hearing loss is treated. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are small, electronic devices designed to collect and process sound. This significantly increases one’s ability to hear which improves overall health and quality of life!