Sleeping with Hearing Loss

I woke up with a snort and for a brief moment I wasnt 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 Ive been known to occasionally rip the roof off, and was mortified that I may have drowned out the engines.  Youd think that, wearing my hearing aids while I dozed, I would wake up at the first snore, but apparently the sleeping brain doesnt 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: youll wake up every hour, on the hour, to make sure your phone is still working!  Youll also wake with every incoming, vibrating email. Who sends emails in the middle of the night?  Ill 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.

Heres 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 nights 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 cant 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 BTEs, 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 wouldnt it be wonderful to have a good nights sleep, at the same time knowing we won’t  miss any important sounds? Maybe in my next life…

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

13 Comments

  1. A jar of rice can be used to dry hearing aids. It works by drawing out the moisture inside the aid. All I do is use a jar with a tight fitting lid and fill the rice most of the way leaving space for the aids to fit inside. The more rice the better. I was having a hard time recently with one of my aids and an audiologist told me about this trick. I remember doing this before and not having much luck. However, I only used a small amount of rice. Now I fill it as high as possible leaving space for the aids to fit in. It seems to work like a charm.

  2. Gael, you wrote,
    “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?”

    Actually, I’ve been wearing hearing aids 24/7/365 for over 20 years now, both for environmental awareness as well as tinnitus suppression. I have an article on the how-to that is “in the typewriter:” Stay tuned to The hearing Blog for it!

  3. Hello Gael:
    Thanks for another great article. I have to share this story with your readers; I think you may have heard it already. I was staying at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto about eight years ago. Due to the fact that I wear two hearing aids, I had made arrangements with the front desk to make two calls to ensure I was up and then to send someone up to knock if I didn’t answer as I had an important early morning meeting. I also leave one hearing aid in just in case.

    Well, the next morning I was half asleep and felt someone jerking on my big toe. Startled, I jerked upward wondering what was going on. Well, I don’t know who was more startled, me or the two beefy security guys standing at the end of the bed, one of whom was holding a very large set of bolt/chain cutters. What happened was that, my hearing aid battery died sometime during the night, so I didn’t hear either of the calls or the knock, so the attendant called security who came up to cut the chain on the door.

    They called out to room and not receiving an answer proceeded inside (it was still a bit dark) and looked at me in the bed. I was in deep sleep and, of course, I couldn’t hear them calling out to me from the foot of the bed, and they thought that maybe I had died, so one of them plucked my toe to see if there would be a response. Of course, when I jerked upright (with a few choice words) they got as big a fright as I did.

    We all had a good laugh about it when I explained about my hearing issues and the dead battery. Hopefully, the hotel staff learned something about dealing with hard of hearing clients. However, the big concern as always is about fire in hotels. Most (all) of them don’t have the proper visual or other alerts needed by hard of hearing persons, so the threat of fire always exists for us. Maybe we need to hire our own night watchman (woman), just in case. LOL!

  4. i had this same conversation with a patient this week who was concerned that he cant hear his smoke detector without his aids. in lieu of being able to comfortably and hygienically sleep in aids i advised him to get a vibrating/light alerting fire alarm system, but as that adds to the expense, he didnt seem keen…

  5. Always enjoy your posts, Gael. I discovered a made-for-iPhone “fitness app” you could give a try: The Lark (www.lark.com). The Bluetooth-based system involves pairing a wristband to your iPhone. When it’s time to wake up in your hotel and prepared for that important meeting, the wristband politely vibrates you wake, as opposed to scaring you half to death. I am not aware of any studies on its effectiveness with deaf or hard of hearing folks, but it worked for me (normal hearing) on a plane where it was impossible for me to detect the auditory portion of the vibratory signal due to ambient steady-state cabin noise and the fact that I was napping with my trusty high fidelity, crying-baby-busting, noise-isolation Etymotic Hf3 headset fully inserted and Miles Davis playing softly from the phone. The app also provides a record of how many times you awakened during the night, which can be downright surprising. The downside is that you must bring the stand with you as charges the wrist-worn sensor (as well as the phone). One thing you need to test out is the fact that you can lose the connection between the wristband and the phone if your midnight trip to the bathroom is too long of a distance. This probably will not be an issue unless you book the presidential suite at the Plaza. The other alerting option is a portable pillow shaker, which is about the same size as the Lark stand. If you decide to try it, let me know if it works for you.

  6. When my job required a lot of travel, I used to depend on alarms of various sorts and calls from the hotel front desk. Then I would wake every half hour, wondering if I missed the alarm. I sometimes set 3 alarms , 15 minutes apart , to be sure of being wakened.
    Then I read an article that said we don’t really need an alarm . It said that as I got into bed I should say to myself , ” I have to get up at ….whatever time I needed to get up , and I would wake at that time . Well guess what,……… it works for me . If I have to get up at 7am , I repeat that to myself as I get into bed and sure enough , I wake at 7, and sometime a few minutes before 7. It really works . It was difficult for me to try it , as I was totally dependent on an alarm . Now , if I set an alarm (Flashing light and bed shaker) I invareably wake before it goes off. Try it , you may like it ! It certainly freed me from sleepless nights and worries about missing an early flight or appointment
    Hopefully, my Alertmaster AM6000 system will wake me in the event of a fire, or a doorbell ringing, with the light and shaker.

    1. Buzz, it’s very much the same with me. But when I’m on the road, traveling alone, I’m a bit more anxious about missing an alarm. I use your same trick if I want to remember something in the morning. I just tell myself that I will remember such and such. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Wonderful article. A couple of years ago, I was napping on the couch with my then age deafened dog (He has since passed away at age 16.) when I woke up to see a bunch of emergency vehicles outside. Curious as to what was happening out there, I opened the door only to find that my house was on FIRE! The emergency vehicles were there for me and the police and others had repeatedly knocked to alert anyone who may be home of the emergency and I slept through it all. No hearing aids in of course. The fire alarm is too high pitched for me to hear, I learned.

    I could have died in the house and no one would have had any idea I was in there. My poor old dog was as flustered as I was. I just got a new puppy who has a bark that would wake the dead and she has been helping to alert me to sounds that I miss in my sleep but I still feel uncomfortable being in a deep sleep when I am alone in the house. I wish there was something I could wear that would just boost sounds if nothing else. I know there are hearing aids now that are completely in the ear and cannot be removed manually so it must be OK to wear them 24/7. I don’t want those but I would love some sort of alternative to relying on my puppy to tell me if someone is breaking in or knocking or whatever. And hotels room? It’s awful to be asleep and not hear housekeeping knock or know if something is happening that should wake you…but doesn’t.

  8. I think the best answer is a DOG. That’s what my daughter Deb has. With 2 cochlear implants, she is truly deaf when they are out.

    You might want to get checked for sleep apnea. Thanks to NP, Deb, I was diagnosed with that at the ripe old age of 85.

    1. I’m a cat person, though, Claudia! I don’t have sleep apnea – I simply travel a lot and have a habit of booking early flights home!

  9. Thanks for your article Gael, Good reading.

    Being born with a hearing loss and I’m deaf without my hearing aids… I do enjoy a good night sleep without noise. I have a vibrator alarm clock in my pillow case to wake me up. My wife will wake me up in an emergency… (I HOPE)… She did have concerned when our kids were babies and home alone with them. I slept with the baby monitor in my pillow case.

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