I woke up with a snort and for a brief moment I wasn’t sure where I was. Then the noise reached my brain – I was on a plane heading home. But – had I been snoring? Most other passengers were wearing headphones, so it was difficult to tell if anyone had been ready to reach across the aisle and punch me.
Planes are so noisy that soft snoring may go unnoticed, but I’ve been known to occasionally rip the roof off, and was mortified that I may have drowned out the engines. You’d think that, wearing my hearing aids while I dozed, I would wake up at the first snore, but apparently the sleeping brain doesn’t work that way.
This trip had been busy, with several flights and hotel stays, and to keep awake (and not snore) for the rest of the flight, I pondered the challenges of sleeping and hearing loss, especially ‘on the road’.
I don’t worry about not hearing the night-time hotel alarms, because I straighten that out when I check in – should disaster strike, the hotel will send the biggest, handsomest fireman to knock down my door and carry me to safety. What scares me is the common travel-anxiety that I might sleep in and miss an early morning flight – and I had left my portable shake-awake at home on this trip.
This is where cell phones come in handy. You put the phone on ‘vibrate’, set the alarm and voilà: you’ll wake up every hour, on the hour, to make sure your phone is still working! You’ll also wake with every incoming, vibrating email. Who sends emails in the middle of the night? I’ll tell you who – every charity or retailer to whom I have ever given my email address. Nothing like being awakened at 2 a.m. to read that Target has a fabulous sale on summer shoes!
That morning, after dragging myself out of bed, showering, getting ready and finally deciding that my ears were dry enough to put in hearing aids, I discovered that the phone alarm did more than vibrate – it also had audio, an irritating 80’s rock tune that had been playing for half an hour at a decibel level that could be heard down the hall.
Here’s a thought for hearing technology inventors: how about a special, comfortable night-time hearing aid for hard of hearing people – one that would allow our imperfect cochleas, diminished hair cells and wobbly auditory nerves to perceive sound while sleeping? As it is, we have to depend on alerting systems that come in a variety of styles and different prices, none of which are perfect. The cheapest style is the hearing person sleeping next to you. Also cheap but one that guarantees a bad night’s sleep for the single person is leaving all the lights on, inside and out, to deter intruders from creeping silently into the house.
The best, although most expensive, alerting system is the electronic type that wakes you up with light, vibration, or both. But being jolted awake by a shimmying mattress and a bedside lighthouse going off simultaneously can leave you jittery and grumpy for half the morning. Three seconds of flashing light is all I need to wake up and hit the floor running.
A question from someone on the Internet: Why do they tell us to take out our hearing aids at night when we go to sleep? Every hearing aid manual says this, but not one says why.
If I were a hearing aid manual writer, I would give these reasons for going to bed with empty ears:
- Hearing aids are like babies; they need their rest. They need to be cleaned and put to bed, battery cage open, in a drying kit to get rid of a day’s worth of moisture and guck. Hearing aids that are forced to run 24/7 will wear out too soon.
- You need a rest after a long day, and sleeping with hearing aid(s) is uncomfortable. You can’t lie with your ear smushed into the pillow because that will be painful and could cause damage to the hearing aid. If you wear two BTE’s, you would have to sleep flat on your back which is uncomfortable, or face down which is potentially fatal. If you wear one hearing aid (any style), you would have to sleep on the un-aided ear and not turn over during the night.
- Your ear canal needs a rest, a chance to breathe. Or as an unknown Internet writer put it, wearing a hearing aid all the time could turn the canal into a petri dish for growing some nice fungus. The ear needs to be rested and in good health to welcome the hearing aid back the next day. Special note: as people get older, our skin gets thinner – even in the ears. Some people may experience dry or flaky ear canals and hearing care professionals may recommend rubbing a small bit of mineral or olive (not baby) oil.
This is all fine, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a good night’s sleep, at the same time knowing we won’t miss any important sounds? Maybe in my next life…