You first notice the sound when you’re in bed attempting to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing in it. The sound is pulsing at the same rhythm as your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, which is bad because you need your sleep and you’ve got a big day tomorrow. Not only are you not feeling tired, you feel anxious.
Does this sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely related. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety could easily conspire to generate a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Firstly, lots of different sounds can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. Basically, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. For many people, tinnitus can occur when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is definitely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is a condition in which feelings of dread, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are difficult to control and severe enough to interfere with your daily life. This can materialize in many ways physically, that includes as tinnitus. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Certainly!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
There are a couple of reasons why this particular combination of tinnitus and anxiety can lead to bad news:
- Usually, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your day-to-day activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make falling asleep a little tricky. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first sign of a more serious anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve made this connection, any episode of tinnitus (whether caused by anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then move to the other. There are some instances where tinnitus is continuous day and night. In other cases, it may pulsate for a few moments and then disappear. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can have negative health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
Your sleep loss could absolutely be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Some examples of how are as follows:
- It can be hard to ignore your tinnitus and that can be extremely stressful. If you’re laying there just trying to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you up all night. Your tinnitus can become even louder and more difficult to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to become stressed. As your stress level goes up your tinnitus gets worse.
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s time for bed. But your tinnitus can be much more obvious when everything is silent.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you might worry that an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. This can, understandably, make it very hard to sleep. But lack of sleep results in all kinds of problems.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more significant as this vicious cycle carries on. And your overall wellness can be negatively affected by this. Here are some of the most common impacts:
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms already present will worsen if you don’t sleep. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and well-being will be affected over time by lack of sleep. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. This can make daily tasks like driving a little more hazardous. And it’s particularly dangerous if you operate heavy machinery, for example.
- Poor work results: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be more negative.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only cause of anxiety. And understanding these causes is important (mostly because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Stress response: When something causes us great stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s great if you’re being chased by a lion. But when you’re dealing with a project at work, that’s not so good. Often, it’s not so clear what the relationship between the two is. Something that caused a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. Even a stressor from a year ago can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Medical conditions: In some cases, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to an elevated anxiety response.
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can result in an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded environment, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety response.
Other causes: Less frequently, anxiety disorders may be caused by some of the following factors:
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Poor nutrition
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Some recreational drugs
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should talk to your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-related tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two general options at hand. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that might work in either circumstance:
Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Medication: Medications may be used, in other situations, to make anxiety symptoms less prevalent.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic method will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. By interrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully prevent anxiety attacks.
Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Some of the most common treatments include:
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This might help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- White noise machine: Use a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this approach.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you suffer from tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you generate new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and lessen your tinnitus symptoms.
You could get better sleep by addressing your tinnitus
You’ll be in danger of falling into a vicious cycle of anxiety and tinnitus if the whooshing and ringing are keeping you up at night. Dealing with your tinnitus first is one possible option. To do that, you should give us a call.