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Why I’m jealous of my friends with hearing loss

friends with hearing loss

This might be a bold thing to say, but here’s the thing.

Oftentimes I lay in bed thinking of how I’m jealous of my friends with hearing loss. Just a little bit. Just in certain circumstances. And mostly when it comes to sleep.

The first time I experienced how deep someone with hearing loss can sleep was during the Here to Hear Tour with D.J. Demers. As the tour manager, I was partially responsible for making sure D.J. was where he needed to be when he needed to be there, which included early morning interviews at local TV news stations.

If you’re not familiar with D.J., he’s a comedian who also happens to have severe to profound hearing loss. Without his Phonak hearing aids, which he takes out to sleep, he can barely hear anything. Now, this is amazing to me not only because his speech and communication skills are extraordinary, but also because as the manager of last year’s 30-day, cross-country comedy tour, I would pretty much always forget about his hearing loss – except when he slept.

“I would pretty much always forget about his hearing loss – except when he slept.”

D.J. actually has a few jokes about sleeping without his hearing aids. He calls it “going full deaf mode.” It’s funny, but it’s also sometimes scary. He would say this, as he literally begged each night of the tour for a hotel room that wasn’t on the ground floor. (Just in case someone broke in and tried to kidnap him. Just in case he wasn’t able to hear when someone creepy was knocking outside the window.)

Because D.J. sleeps so deeply and silently, he relies on a vibrating alarm clock (or partner sleeping next to him) to wake him up. But one morning, as Driver Mike, Justin the videographer, and I counted down the minutes to his scheduled live-television appearance, banging on his door and begging the hotel staff to let us into his room, he continued sleeping like a baby.

Watch: What it’s like to be on the road with the Here to Hear Tour

How do we hear when we sleep?

I admit it, the idea of not being able to hear all the things that go bump in the night is a bit scary. There’s a reason that, for most of us, our hearing still works while we sleep.

In fact, research has found that our ears are even more sensitive to noise when we sleep.

“During the day a hormone called brain-derived-neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is distributed into the ears,” according to researches at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. “This hormone protects the auditory nerves from damage. It provides a layer of insulation to protect the ears from harmful noises that are more likely during waking or day hours. Since nights are typically quieter it makes sense that your body wouldn’t work hard to produce a hormone that is not really needed.”

This “biological circadian clock”  explains why we have different levels of noise sensitivity during different times, according to researchers, who also reported that being exposed to loud noise at night is more damaging to your hearing than the same noise during the day.

Sleep

We all relish it, don’t we? Especially when we don’t get enough of it.

The US Health Association says that we should get around 8 hours of sleep a day, but recommendations are always changing, based on age, lifestyle, career.

My sister said she didn’t get more than four hours of straight sleep in the three years (!) after having her first child, but somehow she survived.

Whether it’s a crying baby, a rooster, or traffic noise outside your window, the world is loud. And personally, I’m finding it difficult to sleep.

My good friend Kirsten, on the other hand, has no trouble sleeping at my apartment, which is next to a bar in the city. After removing her hearing aids and placing them into the sleek charging case on the nightstand, she subsequently tunes out the high-pitched music with her mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

The dangers of noise

For those of us with “normal hearing,” noise isn’t just some pesky annoyance that keeps us awake. High noise levels have also been linked to hypertension, higher stress levels, and an aggravate to a weakened immune system, heart problems, anxiety, and depression.

The proven negative effects of noise on the human body have resulted in some regulations, such as the Noise Pollution and Abatement Act of 1972, but the world has since only gotten louder.

While it’s hard to say exactly how loud, but Phonak hEARo Angie recently went out and measured daily sounds in her life. All the noises she experienced through the day measured an average of 86dB – loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the maximum exposure time at 85 dBA is eight hours, so the daily noises in Angie’s life wouldn’t cause immediate loss. But if she were to be exposed to 110 dBA, it would only take one minute and 29 seconds for hearing damage to occur. (The loudest sound in Angie’s day was the traffic noise when she was the car with the windows open, which registered 99dB). 

“But if she were to be exposed to 110 dBA, it would only take one minute and 29 seconds for hearing damage to occur.”

No wonder 1 in 5 American adults report some level of hearing loss – a number that only increases as we age. Buy the time we’re 65, that number increases to 1 in 3, and as we age 10 more years, hearing loss will affect nearly half of us, according to the NIH.

So, I guess, as I’m writing this at 5 a.m., sick from a hotel bed in Vietnam listening to a construction crew beginning their day, I’m am a bit jealous of my friends with hearing loss, but I guess I shouldn’t be too jealous. Inevitably, in this loud world, I’ll end up with it too.

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Author Details
Jill von Bueren is the editor-in-chief of HearingLikeMe.com.Originally from the U.S., she now resides in Zurich, Switzerland. She has a background in journalism and is currently working on her second novel.
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Jill von Bueren is the editor-in-chief of HearingLikeMe.com.Originally from the U.S., she now resides in Zurich, Switzerland. She has a background in journalism and is currently working on her second novel.
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