You first notice the sound when you’re lying in bed attempting to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. You have a lot to do tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is bad. And suddenly you feel very anxious, not very sleepy.
Does this seem familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely related. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and impacts your health can be the outcome.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not that simple. Firstly, lots of different sounds can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. Basically, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. For many, tinnitus can appear when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is definitely a thing.
For people who cope with feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings often hinder their life because they have trouble controlling them. This can materialize in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Absolutely!
What’s bad about this combination of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combo of tinnitus and anxiety can lead to bad news:
- Most individuals tend to experience tinnitus more often at night. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your everyday activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make getting to sleep a little tricky. And that sleeplessness can itself lead to more anxiety.
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first indication of a more serious anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve made this connection, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
There are instances where tinnitus can start in one ear and at some point move to both. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combination can present some negative impacts on your health.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yes, anxiety-related tinnitus could definitely be contributing to your sleep issues. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to get stressed. As your stress level increases your tinnitus will get worse.
- Most people sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more noticeable.
- The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and difficult to overlook. If you’re laying there just attempting to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you awake all night. Your tinnitus can become even louder and more difficult to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you might worry that an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. It’s not surprising that you’re having trouble sleeping. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health affects of insomnia will become much more severe. And this can really have a detrimental affect on your wellness. Here are some of the most common effects:
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and wellness will be affected over time by lack of sleep. Increased danger of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting adequate sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. Driving and other daily activities will then be more hazardous. And it’s particularly hazardous if you operate heavy machinery, for instance.
- Poor work performance: It should come as no shock that if you can’t get to sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
- Increased stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related problems.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. It’s essential to recognize what these causes are so you can avoid stress triggers and possibly reduce your tinnitus while you’re at it. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Medical conditions: In some situations, you might simply have a medical condition that makes you more prone to an elevated anxiety response.
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. 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. Often, it’s not so clear what the link between the two is. Something that caused a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack today. Even a stressor from last year can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can bring on an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded environment, for example, can cause some individuals to have an anxiety response.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:
- Certain recreational drugs
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Poor nutrition
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
This list is not complete. And you should consult your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
How to treat your anxiety-induced tinnitus?
You have two basic choices to treat anxiety-induced tinnitus. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that may work in either case:
Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Medication: In some cases, medication may help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this approach will help you recognize those thought patterns. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully avoid anxiety attacks.
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 attempting to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. 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 reduce your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This might help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
Addressing your tinnitus may help you sleep better
As long as that humming 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.