You’re lying down in bed trying to sleep when you first hear the sound: a beating or maybe a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is beating at the same rhythm as your heartbeat. And once you notice that sound, you can’t tune it out. You have a big day tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is bad. And suddenly you feel very anxious, not very sleepy.
Does this situation sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely linked. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and affects your health can be the result.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
Generally, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Firstly, many different sounds can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. For many, tinnitus can occur when you’re feeling stressed out, 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 hard to control and strong enough to hinder your daily life. Tinnitus is only one of the many ways this can physically materialize. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Definitely!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
This combination of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- You may be having a more severe anxiety attack if you begin to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve acknowledged the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you detect tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could increase.
- Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more often at night. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Sure, but it’s also possible that the ringing’s been there all day and your normal activities were simply loud enough to hide the sound. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that sleeplessness can itself lead to more anxiety.
There are situations where tinnitus can start in one ear and eventually move to both. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. There are other situations where it comes and goes. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can present some negative impacts on your health.
How does tinnitus-anxiety impact your sleep?
Your sleep loss could absolutely be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. Here are several examples of how:
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to get stressed. The more stressed you are, the worse your tinnitus will be.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to ignore. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can become even louder and more difficult to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- Most people sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But your tinnitus can be much more noticeable when everything is silent.
When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is coming. This can, obviously, make it very difficult to sleep. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
How lack of sleep impacts your health
As this vicious cycle continues, the health impacts of insomnia will grow much more severe. And this can really have a detrimental affect on your wellness. Some of the most common impacts include the following:
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to affect your long-term health and wellness. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can occur.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting adequate sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. This can make daily tasks like driving a little more hazardous. And it’s especially dangerous if you run heavy machinery, for instance.
- Poor work results: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t sleep, your job performance will become affected. You won’t be as eager or be able to think clearly and quickly.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. And knowing these causes is important (mostly because they will help you prevent 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 extreme stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a tiger. But it’s not so good when you’re dealing with a project for work. Sometimes, it’s not so obvious what the link between the two is. Something that caused a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. You may even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from a year ago, for example.
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can result in an anxiety attack. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety response.
- Medical conditions: In some cases, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to an elevated anxiety response.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors may also cause anxiety:
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Lack of nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
- Stimulant usage (that includes caffeine)
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment solutions.
Treating anxiety-related tinnitus
You have two basic options to manage anxiety-induced tinnitus. You can either try to address the anxiety or address the tinnitus. In either situation, here’s how that may work:
Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this approach will help you recognize those thought patterns. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
- Medication: In some instances, medication may help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less obvious.
There are a variety of ways to treat tinnitus and this is especially true if symptoms manifest primarily at night. Some of the most common treatments include:
- White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, use a white noise machine. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this approach.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can minimize the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a strategy that helps them do that by helping them create new thought patterns.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This might help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
Dealing with your tinnitus may help you sleep better
As long as that thrumming or whooshing is keeping you awake at night, you’ll be at risk of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should give us a call.