You first hear the sound when you’re in bed attempting to sleep: a pulsing or perhaps a throbbing, possibly a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is beating in rhythm with your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. You have a big day tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is bad. And all of a sudden you feel very anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this seem familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely related. A vicious cycle that deprives you of your sleep and affects your health can be the outcome.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a bit more complex than that. 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 outside sound. For many, tinnitus can happen when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
For individuals who experience feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings often interfere with their life because they have trouble controlling them. Tinnitus is only one of the many ways this can physically materialize. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Absolutely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
This combo 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 made this connection, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether related 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? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And that sleeplessness can itself result in more anxiety.
There are situations where tinnitus can start in one ear and eventually move to both. There are some cases where tinnitus is continuous day and night. In other situations, it may pulsate for a few minutes and then go away. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combination can present some negative impacts on your health.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
Your sleep loss could absolutely be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Some examples of how are as follows:
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But your tinnitus can become much more obvious when everything is quiet.
- It can be hard to disregard your tinnitus and that can be really stressful. 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 harder to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to become stressed. As your stress level rises your tinnitus gets worse.
When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and fear that an anxiety attack is coming. It’s no wonder that you’re losing sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, kind of makes everything worse.
How lack of sleep affects your health
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more significant as this vicious cycle carries on. And your general wellness can be negatively affected by this. Here are a few of the most common impacts:
- Slower reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. Driving and other daily activities will then be more dangerous. And it’s especially hazardous if you operate heavy equipment, for example.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and wellness will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. You could find yourself at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Inferior work performance: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t get to sleep, your job performance will suffer. You won’t be as eager or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
- Elevated 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 be the outcome.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only cause of anxiety. It’s important to recognize what these causes are so you can stay away from stress triggers and maybe reduce your tinnitus at the same time. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- 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 great. But it’s not so good when you’re working on an assignment for work. Often, it’s not so clear what the link between the two is. Something that caused a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. Even a stressor from a year ago can cause an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can bring on an anxiety attack. For instance, being around crowds can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some.
- Medical conditions: In some cases, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more prone to an increased anxiety response.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors might also cause anxiety:
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
- Certain recreational drugs
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Poor nutrition
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should consult your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
How to treat your anxiety-related tinnitus?
You have two general options to treat anxiety-induced tinnitus. You can either try to treat the anxiety or treat the tinnitus. In either case, here’s how that may work:
In general, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this method will help you identify those thought patterns. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully prevent anxiety attacks.
- Medication: Medications might be utilized, in other situations, to make anxiety symptoms less prevalent.
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, use a white noise machine. Your tinnitus symptoms might be able to be masked by this approach.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you are dealing with tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you produce new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and decrease your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear beside your ears. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
You could get better sleep by addressing 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 option. Give us a call so we can help.