You first notice 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 notice that sound, 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 seem familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely related. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety could easily conspire to generate a vicious cycle, one that robs you of your sleep, your rest, and can affect your health.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a little more complicated than that. First of all, the actual sound you hear can take a wide variety of shapes, from pulsation to throbbing to buzzing and so on. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. For many people, tinnitus can appear 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 manifest in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can tinnitus be caused by anxiety? Absolutely!
What’s bad about this combination of anxiety and tinnitus?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- You might be having a more serious anxiety attack if you start to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this association, any episode of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
- Normally, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Sure, but it’s also possible that the ringing’s been there all day and your ordinary activities were simply loud enough to hide the sound. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then change to the other. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. In other situations, it might pulsate for a few minutes and then go away. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can have negative health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
Your sleep loss could certainly be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Here are a few examples of how:
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleeping. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
- It can be hard to ignore your tinnitus and that can be extremely stressful. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so persistent that you lie awake until morning. As your anxiety about not sleeping increases, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can get louder and even harder to ignore.
- Most individuals sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. You turn everything off because it’s time for bed. But when everything else is quiet, your tinnitus can become much more obvious.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. This can, naturally, make it very hard to sleep. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
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 this can really have a negative affect on your wellness. Here are a few of the most common impacts:
- Increased stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
- Slower reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. Driving and other daily activities will then be more dangerous. And it’s particularly dangerous if you operate heavy equipment, for example.
- Poor work performance: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t get to sleep, your job efficiency will become affected. You won’t be as eager or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to impact your long-term health and wellness. Increased danger of a stroke or heart disease can be the consequence.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only source of anxiety. It’s important to know what these causes are so you can avoid stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus at the same time. Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can cause an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety response.
- Medical conditions: In some instances, you might simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to an increased anxiety response.
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. That’s great if you’re being chased by a tiger. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so good. Often, it’s not so clear what the link between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack today from something that caused a stress response a week ago. You may even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from a year ago, for example.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Certain recreational drugs
- Lack of nutrition
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment options.
Dealing with anxiety-related tinnitus
When it comes to anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two basic choices at hand. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be dealt with. Here’s how that might work in either case:
There are a couple of options for treating anxiety:
- Medication: Medications may be used, in other circumstances, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic approach will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. By interrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully avoid anxiety attacks.
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 attempting to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. Your tinnitus symptoms might 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 reduce how much you notice your tinnitus.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can minimize the disruptive effect it has. CBT is a strategy that helps them do that by helping them produce new thought patterns.
You may get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
You’ll be at risk of falling into a vicious cycle of anxiety and tinnitus if the whooshing and ringing are keeping you awake at night. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible solution. To do that, you should give us a call.