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What is Listening Fatigue & What Can Be Done to Overcome it?

Can you really become tired from using this all-important sense? Listening can be exhausting. Really, it can. And it’s not necessarily because the keynote speaker at the 2020 Paleontology Conference (held virtually, of course) doesn’t know how to crack a joke. Sometimes, listening to even the most enthusiastic and enthralling subjects for lengthy periods of time can lead one to become tired of engaging in the physical act of listening.

All the more so for people with hearing loss. While for most people, listening fatigue is the natural consequence of spending extended amounts of time attuned to a single source of sound, for people with hearing loss, listening can set in faster. This, the direct result of the extra focus and straining exerted to hear those very same sounds, from the get-go. In fact, if you find yourself coping with listening fatigue earlier into listening “events” - or more often - you could be experiencing early signs of hearing loss.

Listening fatigue does not mean you’re ‘tired of listening’

“I’m tired of listening to this.”

“I’m bored.”

“This is too complicated; let’s listen to something easier on the ears.”

“Turn it off; it’s putting me to sleep.”

All of the above claims are legitimate, but none accurately represent the experience that is listening fatigue.

Listening fatigue occurs when the concentration around separating sounds from background noise, before processing and translating them into meaningful information becomes a strain on your brain.

A common misconception is that people who seem “tired of listening” are rude, lazy, or uncaring. In reality, the opposite is true, especially for people with hearing loss. For the average person, listening fatigue is an all-too-common occurrence after a long day of meetings, or too much time spent multitasking while listening to music or other audio recordings. However, for people with hearing loss, listening fatigue can set in faster and more profoundly, due to the extra concentration needed to read lips, or strain to hear words - in person or recorded. Their eyes and ears are constantly working overtime to hear and understand speech and that can be, well, downright exhausting.

What causes listening fatigue?

Listening fatigue may be linked to how people mentally perceive sound. It could also be associated with the way we listen to sound in the digital age. For example, people often wear headphones or earbuds to listen to speech and music privately - and to enjoy some personal space, even when in public - but doing so can create pressure chambers within the eardrums, reducing sound waves and encouraging listeners to crank up the volume. And the louder the sounds get, the poorer their quality becomes, and more straining and fatigue is experienced.

Sensory overload is also associated with listening fatigue, even for those who are not actively listening to any particular sound. For example, people who work in loud environments, like construction sites, might find it hard to focus on listening to those speaking to them on the job, simply because there are too many sounds in any single area, at any given time. Add a little mood music to the mix, and it’s no wonder that listening fatigue set in, way before it’s time to clock out.

How can you overcome listening fatigue?

Depending on your hearing health, you may choose to adopt one or more of the following tips to improve your quality of daily life and combat listening fatigue:

  • Take breaks. Actively leave the listening environment you’re in and go somewhere quiet, even for a few minutes. Close your eyes and imagine all the sound away, before returning to it with renewed energy and focus.

  • Take a nap. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a 20-30 minute nap can be just enough to help you reset your listening “button,” providing you with some built-in quiet time, and helping you regain alertness, without ruining your nighttime sleep. The opposite is also true. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to reduced brain function and earlier onset of listening fatigue.

  • Take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Practicing deep breathing can help you relax and regain your composure, so that you can process sound more effectively, stress-free.

  • Take background noise out of the equation. Limit your exposure to background sounds when possible, to give your brain a break. Some people find noise-cancelling headphones (used to provide quiet, not add more sounds) particularly helpful.

  • Take the Tunefork hearing test. Tunefork has developed an advanced personal Audio Profile system that characterizes an individual’s hearing. Our simple self-test is clinically accurate, delivering the best results possible, truly the Gold Standard in Audio experience. The test results enable Tunefork to tailor a precise audio filter for each and every user, developing the perfect match between smart mobile audio systems and hearing needs, while optimally compensates for the user’s hearing loss.

Bottom line

Listening fatigue is real. And a real challenge for people of all walks of life, especially those living with hearing loss. Understanding what causes listening fatigue can help you take measures to overcome it, so you can start enjoying the sounds that surround you, and a better quality of life.

Ready to enjoy flawless clarity of sound and reduce listening fatigue? Try the Tunefork app today!


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