Though relatively less known, tinnitus has affected over 15% of the human population worldwide. This condition forces an individual to hear noises (like ringing in the ears), even though there is no external source to the sound. Apart from being irksome, tinnitus sometimes also affects the person's mental health, especially when they have been suffering from the condition for prolonged durations.
Despite the irritating nature of the condition, there is no completely effective way to treat tinnitus. Therefore, one of the leading research areas scientists have focused on concerning tinnitus is sleep. The thing about tinnitus is that it is a phantom phenomenon. Our brain makes us hear sounds that are not there in reality. The majority of humans experience phantom perceptions only in their sleep. However, the affected individuals hear sounds even when wide awake with tinnitus.
Researchers have discovered brain mechanisms that connect tinnitus with sleep in a recent study published in the journal Brain Communications. With studies on these mechanisms, scientists will be able to understand the condition further and seek ways to treat it.
Sometimes, during the slow wave phase of sleep, certain brain sections remain hyperactive. This result in disorders like sleepwalking. Similar activity has been observed among people affected with tinnitus. Researchers believe that these hyperactive regions remain active in tinnitus patients – explaining why such individuals often show disturbed sleep routines. Instead, such people are light sleepers and often have interrupted sleep.
Scientists further added that some deep sleep is not affected by the condition. This happens during the deepest phase of sleep when brain activity suppresses tinnitus. When in the deepest sleep phase, the slow wave activity is the strongest, preventing the hyperactive region of the brain from interrupting sleep. This also explains how people affected with tinnitus still managed to find peaceful sleep.
With further studies in this field, especially by tracking brain activity and the changes in sleep stages in tinnitus patients, researchers will be able to find the treatment options for tinnitus.