You first hear the sound when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing in it. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you up, which is bad because you need your sleep and you have a big day tomorrow. Not only are you not feeling tired, you feel anxious.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely related. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and impacts your health can be the result.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a bit more complex than that. Firstly, many different sounds can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. When people get stressed out, for many people, tinnitus can manifest.
An anxiety disorder is a condition where 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 manifest in many ways physically, that includes as tinnitus. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Definitely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Usually, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Certainly, but it’s also possible that the ringing’s been there all day and your normal activities were simply loud enough to mask the sound. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself result in more anxiety.
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first sign of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve made this connection, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether caused by anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then change to the other. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. In other situations, it may pulsate for a few moments and then disappear. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can have negative health consequences.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could easily be causing your sleep problems. Here are a few examples of how:
- Most individuals sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. It’s nighttime, so you turn everything off. But your tinnitus can become much more noticeable when everything is silent.
- the level of your stress will keep rising the longer you go without sleeping. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will be.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to overlook. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can become even louder and harder to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. It’s not surprising that you’re losing sleep. But lack of sleep causes all kinds of issues.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more profound as this vicious cycle carries on. And your general wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Some of the most prevalent impacts include the following:
- Slower reaction times: When you aren’t getting adequate sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. Driving and other daily activities will then be more dangerous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Poor work results: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t sleep, your job efficiency will become affected. You won’t be as eager or be able to think clearly and quickly.
- Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related issues.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and wellness will be affected over time by lack of sleep. You could find yourself at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. It’s essential to know what these causes are so you can avoid stress triggers and possibly decrease your tinnitus while you’re at it. Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can happen when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For example, being around crowds can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some people.
- Medical conditions: You might, in some instances, have a heightened anxiety response due to a medical condition.
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s great. But it’s less good when you’re working on a project for work. Often, it’s not so obvious what the relationship between the two is. Something that triggered a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack today. Even a stressor from last year can cause an anxiety attack now.
Other factors: Less commonly, anxiety disorders may be caused by some of the following factors:
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Poor nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
This list is not complete. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment possibilities.
Dealing with anxiety-related tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two general options available. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that may work in either circumstance:
There are a couple of possibilities for managing anxiety:
- Medication: In some instances, medication could help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less obvious.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this strategy will help you recognize those thought patterns. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by disrupting those thought patterns.
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:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can decrease the disruptive effect it has. CBT is an approach that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
- White noise machine: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this approach.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This can help minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
You may get better sleep by addressing your tinnitus
As long as that thrumming or whooshing is keeping you up at night, you’ll be at risk of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. One plan is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Contact us so we can help.