When you think of your ability to hear, you might think of your ears first, but your brain plays an essential role in your ability to listen, understand, and speak. Your ears and brain work together to process sound, understand the meaning, and formulate a response or reaction. Because of this connection, it’s important to ensure that your brain doesn’t have to work in overdrive in order to understand the sounds of everyday life. When your brain must strain to understand noises, you may experience what is known as listening fatigue.
Our bodies work to understand sound by translating noises we hear into electrical signals, which are sent along the auditory nerve to the brain. The sensory hair cells of the inner ear are the ones to translate sound into electrical signals, and each hair cell is responsible for a particular pitch or frequency. If that specific hair cell is damaged or dies, the auditory system can no longer translate that pitch into an electrical signal. With these missing pieces, it becomes more difficult for the brain to interpret sound.
The death or damage of these hair cells results in hearing loss. If you have untreated hearing loss, your brain must work harder than usual in order to process the incoming auditory information. Listening can require a lot of concentration even if you have normal hearing; the mental strain required with hearing loss is even greater. This results in a condition known as listening fatigue, or auditory fatigue. If you notice yourself feeling extra exhausted at the end of the day (and are in good health), you may be suffering from listening fatigue.
Here are a few simple ways to combat listening fatigue and give your brain a break:
If you are experiencing hearing loss or are hard of hearing, hearing aids or cochlear implants might be the solution you need. These devices can improve listening comprehension and decrease auditory fatigue.
In a recent study, researchers at Vanderbilt University tested adults with varying degrees of hearing loss to see if hearing aids would have an effect on their listening effort and mental fatigue. In the study, participants exhibited better word recall and faster reaction times when they were wearing hearing aids. This indicates that they experienced less mental fatigue when using their devices.
If you feel stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed, try deep breathing exercises. This can help you relax and clear your mind while lowering your blood pressure and reducing stress.
Taking even a short break from the noise can be beneficial to your mind. This can be as simple as taking a walk in nature or finding a quiet place to sit for a few minutes every day. If you wear hearing aids, consider taking them out for a short period every day.
People with hearing loss often have difficulty distinguishing speech from background noise. Whenever you can, eliminate background noise. This allows your brain to more easily focus on what you are trying to hear, rather than sorting through background noise in order to tune into a conversation.
If you feel like you’re experiencing listening fatigue, take a short 20-30 minute nap. Not only will this provide you with quiet time, but the National Sleep Foundation also reports that a 20-30 minute nap provides a boost in alertness and performance without causing grogginess or interfering with your nighttime sleep.
If you believe you may be suffering from listening fatigue or experiencing hearing loss, we encourage you to contact our audiology practice today. We are here to provide you with the solutions you need.