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What You May Be Hearing When You Sleep

can we hear while we sleep

Have you ever wondered about what you hear at night? If so, you’re not alone. The topic of whether or not our hearing stays on even when our other senses have turned off during sleep has been one of considerable debate.
New research may now be showing that we do, in fact, process auditory information in our sleep. These findings could prove valuable in the future for those who use hearing technology for hearing loss.
Naptime hearing
Research from Vanderbilt University recently released preliminary results from an EEG study that offered surprising insight into hearing and sleep. In the study, the team worked with a group of preschool-age children at the university’s preschool. The children were placed in a quiet and isolated room for naptime, and while they were asleep, researchers played a group of three nonsense words over a short period. The preschoolers’ brainwaves were tested using an EEG machine.
Following the nap, the team showed the kids a variety of nonsense words, including those played during naptime.
According to the results, the children showed signs of recognition for the naptime nonsense words, confirming the hypothesis that they were still hearing and processing sounds while asleep.
Researchers dig into hearing during sleep
This isn’t the first study to take a closer look at whether or not we process auditory information during sleep, how it happens and how it affects us. It has been a question that has intrigued scientists for years:

  • In a 2016 study, a team from the École Normale Supérieure in Paris used EEG to monitor the brains of volunteers listening to recordings of spoken words. Participants were asked to classify these words as either objects or animals. The results showed varying degrees of information processing depending on the depth of sleep (light non-REM, non-REM or REM).
  • Earlier findings from Johns Hopkins also took a look at how the brain processes sound during sleep and why some sounds seem to wake us while others don’t. In this study, an undergraduate student uncovered where in the frontal cortex this process might take place. “We found that during waking, only areas around primary auditory cortex are activated by the tones,” Serena J. Gondek, study lead and author said. “Then, during light and deep sleep, you find not only primary auditory activation, but the frontal lobe also responds.”
  • Another study published in Current Biology in 2014 found that sleeping participants were able make decisions (“task relevant responses”) in response to spoken words. The study reiterated previous findings that the brain does not completely shut down and disconnect during sleep as we once thought.

As researchers continue to explore how and what we hear while sleeping, experts believe this valuable information not only helps us to understand better how hearing works but may also one day translate into better hearing technology and treatment options for those with hearing loss.
If you have questions about your hearing or believe you have hearing loss, contact our office to schedule an appointment for a hearing evaluation.

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What is Normal Hearing?

What is normal hearing

Have you ever wondered about hearing loss and what is considered “normal” hearing? You’re not alone. With so many people now living with a diagnosis of hearing, it’s no surprise that many wonder just what exactly “normal” is. Scientists determined the standard many years ago and with the help of many, many people.
How hearing works
Before we discuss how science determined normal levels of hearing, it’s important to understand just how your hearing works. It all starts with a sound that is captured by your outer ear. These sounds (sound waves) are funneled into your ear canal. From there, sound waves hit the eardrum. As they vibrate the eardrum, which is the beginning of the middle ear, the eardrum moves three small bones called ossicles to varying degrees depending on the pitch of the sound. It doesn’t end there, though.
As the ossicles move, signals are sent to the inner ear and the cochlea. The fluid within the cochlea begins to move, moving the hair-like cells within it. This minute movement is then translated to the brain as sound by way of the auditory nerve. In many cases, it is damage to the small hair-like structures of the inner ear, due to aging or exposure to loud noise, that result in hearing loss.
Hearing and hearing loss
As long as there have been humans there has been hearing loss. There is evidence of hearing loss in 10,000 year old skeletal remains from the Middle East, writings on the subject from Plato and Aristotle and the first electronic hearing aids were developed in 1940. It’s no wonder that science wanted to find common ground and global standards for hearing and hearing loss.
The core of that standard is “audiometric zero.” Audiometric zero is the frequency range detectable by someone with normal hearing. Generally, that range is from 0 dBHL (Decibel Hearing Level) to approximately 20 dBHL. It took a unique approach to determine this range, though. Researchers tested the hearing of thousands of attendees at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. Once they were done, they determined an average for the lowest level those people could hear at certain frequencies. The resulting information became audiometric zero.
What does that mean?
Those with hearing loss are those who only hear louder sounds, those over 20 dBHL. They are unable to hear within the audiometric zero range.
Individuals can have varying degrees of hearing loss as determined by a hearing evaluation:

  • Hearing loss of 20 to 40 decibels = mild hearing loss
  • Hearing loss of 41 to 60 decibels = moderate hearing loss
  • Hearing loss of 61 to 80 decibels = severe hearing loss
  • Hearing loss of more than 81 decibels = profound hearing loss

Any loss over 40 decibels is considered a hearing impairment.
To give you a better idea of what these decibel levels mean, here are some common sounds and where they measure in decibels:
Quiet countryside: 20 dB
Conversation: 60 dB
Traffic: 80 dB
Jet engine: 140 dB
Sustained exposure to noises over 90 dB can lead to hearing loss.
Our hearing is delicate and easily damaged. It is important to protect it with hearing protection and regular hearing evaluations. These screenings can help determine if you have a hearing loss and how best to manage it to protect further loss.

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Is Hearing On All Of The Time? Science Seems To Think So

can we hear while we sleep

The human brain functions much like a switchboard that is teeming with all types of electrical activity. When the brain receives a stimulus from a sound or a smell, the brain must decide if the stimulus is something about which a person should be made aware. The sensation remains in our memory even if the person does not wake up. It is a common belief that our ears are on all the time. If we are asleep and dreaming, we are still processing environmental sounds.

No Rest For The Brain

When we sleep, the brain does not rest; it is very active during sleep. There are changes in the electrical activity of the brain during sleep due to the trillions of nerve cells rewiring themselves. It is this rewiring that allows us to process and retain new information. Sleep is essential for maintaining the pathway in your brain that helps you to learn and create new memories. The brain also removes toxins in your brain that build up during the time you are awake. This activity of the brain also makes hearing while you sleep possible. It is this ability to hear while asleep that is the focus of a new research study involving preschool children.

A Study

A group of researchers from Vanderbilt University is studying preschool children to answer the question of what the children hear during sleep. The purpose of this EEG study is to show traces of sounds heard during the children’s nap time. This project is among the first of its kind to determine how sleep environments affect pre-school children.
The team uses a portable EEG machine to test individual children in silent, isolated rooms during the children’s nap time at the university preschool. When the children are sleeping, the investigators play three nonsense words to each child for a short period.
All the children demonstrated a recognition of the test sounds when lined up with other nonsense words that the children did not hear during the study. The indication is that the children process sensory information even when they are asleep. The team was able to verify that the children were asleep before the administration of the sounds. The research team considers that this study may serve as a critical first step in understanding the process in children who use hearing technology because of hearing loss but who do not use the devices while sleeping.

Never Stop Working

The brain is indeed a workhorse that never stops working. Even during sleep, the neural activity within the brain is still active. When we sleep, it is also a time for the brain to rewire the delicate nerve cells that reside within the brain and to maintain the pathway for learning and creating new memories. Thanks to new research, we are closer to understanding our ability to hear during sleep. Hopefully, this information will help to shed more light on the mysteries surrounding the brain and its impact on our hearing ability.

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How To Troubleshoot Common Hearing Aid Problems

how to troubleshoot common hearing aid issues

Hearing aids are magical little devices that have the ability to change the lives of people with hearing loss. By allowing people to better hear their surroundings, hearing aids allow people with hearing loss to have meaningful conversations and engage with the world around them.
But what happens when a hearing aid malfunctions or doesn’t function as it should? Do you have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform minor repairs on your hearing aids?
Although countless people around the world rely on hearing aids to treat their hearing loss, many of these people don’t know how to identify and troubleshoot common problems with their devices. There are a number of different issues that can arise with hearing aids, some of which require professional assistance, but many of which can be dealt with quickly and easily on your own.
If you wear hearing aids, it’s a good idea for you to know how to handle some of the more common issues. Here are some problems to look out for:
Hearing Aids That Stop Producing Sound
A lack of sound is one of the most common issues that people who wear hearing aids face. Unfortunately, this problem can have a wide number of different causes, so we first need to identify the underlying issue before we can fix our hearing aid. If your hearing aid isn’t producing sound, try the following:

  • Take off the hearing aid and visually inspect it. Pay particular attention to the microphone opening and the ear mold, if you have them. There may be earwax or debris blocking the sound.
  • Turn the hearing aid on. This may seem obvious, but it’s an easy step to overlook. If the device won’t turn on, open the battery compartment and check to see if the battery is installed correctly. Try replacing the battery if it still won’t turn on.
  • Adjust the volume settings on the hearing aid. It’s possible, especially with manually-controlled devices, that the volume was accidentally turned down.
  • Test out the different settings on your device. This will help you identify if the issue is with just one setting or with the entire device.
  • Consider the possibility that your hearing aid was damaged by water or another force. Your hearing healthcare professional is a good resource if you still can’t get your hearing aid to produce sound.

Hearing Aids That Aren’t Loud Enough
If your hearing aids aren’t producing a loud enough sound, you may struggle to hear what’s going on around you. Thus it’s important that your devices can operate at a volume that you can actually hear. If your hearing aids aren’t loud enough, try the following tricks to fix them:

  • Check to see if there is earwax or other debris blocking the microphone or the earmold and tubing if you wear behind the ear hearing aids. Cracks, blockages, and moisture can all reduce overall volume.
  • Turn up the volume. If you have manual volume controls on your hearing aids, it’s possible that they were accidentally adjusted during the day.
  • Consider the possibility that your hearing changed. It might be worth scheduling an appointment with your hearing healthcare professional to see if your hearing has changed so your hearing aids can be adjusted accordingly.

Hearing Aids That Sound Distorted
If your hearing aids have started to sound funny, there may be a simple fix – or your devices may be damaged. Try the following steps to see if you can’t get your hearing aids back to normal:

  • Inspect the batteries and the battery contacts (the little metal prongs that connect to the battery). Are the corroded or damaged? This could be causing your hearing aids to create distorted sounds, so you may need to replace the battery or the contacts.
  • Check your program settings. You may have inadvertently switched to a different setting which is causing sound to be transmitted in a weird way.

Hearing Aids That Produce Feedback
Feedback is a common occurrence among hearing aid users and can be audible to people around you. Feedback can be caused by a number of different issues, but it’s important to deal with it right away so you can continue listening to the world around you. If you’re experiencing frequent feedback, try these tricks:

  • Try reinserting your hearing aids. They may not be properly placed within your ears and may need to be re-fit by a professional.
  • Turn down the volume. Sometimes there’s just too much sound leaking out of the earmold or vent in the hearing aid, so you may need to turn the volume down a bit.
  • Consider whether your ears have an earwax blockage. Ask your hearing healthcare professional to inspect your ears and remove any earwax which may be increasing the feedback from your devices.