You first hear the sound when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep: a pulsing or perhaps a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is beating in rhythm with your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, 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 situation sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. A vicious cycle that deprives you of your sleep and affects your health can be the result.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
Tinnitus is generally defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not that simple. Firstly, many different noises 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 experience stress, for many, tinnitus can manifest.
An anxiety disorder is a condition in which feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are hard to control and intense enough to interfere with your daily life. This can materialize in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can tinnitus be caused by anxiety? Certainly!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combination of tinnitus and anxiety can lead to bad news:
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first sign of a more serious anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve recognized the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you notice tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
- Normally, nighttime is when most people 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 getting to sleep a little tricky. And that insomnia can itself lead to more anxiety.
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 minutes and then disappear. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can have negative health consequences.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yes, anxiety-driven tinnitus could definitely be contributing to your sleep issues. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and difficult to overlook. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so persistent that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can become even louder and more difficult to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
- Most individuals sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. It’s nighttime, so you turn off everything. But your tinnitus can be much more noticeable when everything is quiet.
- The level of your stress will keep rising the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level goes up your tinnitus will get worse.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you may worry that an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing noise. It’s not surprising that you’re having trouble sleeping. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.
How lack of sleep affects your health
The effect insomnia has on your health will continue to become more significant as this vicious cycle continues. And your general wellness can be negatively affected by this. Some of the most common effects include the following:
- Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. This can make daily tasks such as driving a little more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to impact your long-term health and wellness. You could find yourself at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Poor work performance: Clearly, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. Your thinking will be slower and your mood will be less positive.
- Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. This can lead to a vicious cycle of mental health-related issues.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other causes of anxiety besides tinnitus. And recognizing these causes is essential (largely because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Medical conditions: In some situations, you might simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to a heightened anxiety response.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a natural anxiety response when something stresses us. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good thing. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so great. Sometimes, it’s not so clear what the relationship between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress response a week ago. You may even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from last year, for example.
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can cause an anxiety attack. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some individuals to have an anxiety response.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors may also trigger anxiety:
- Certain recreational drugs
- Lack of nutrition
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
This list is not complete. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment options.
Dealing with anxiety-related tinnitus
With regards to anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two general choices at hand. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that may work in either case:
There are a couple of possibilities for treating anxiety:
- Medication: In some instances, medication could help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less pronounced.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this approach will help you identify those thought patterns. Patients are able to better avoid 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. Here are some common treatments:
- White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can reduce the disruptive effect it has. CBT is an approach that helps them do that by helping them produce new thought patterns.
- 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 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. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Contact us so we can help.