You first notice the sound when you’re in bed trying to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And once you notice 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 sleepy, you feel anxious.
Does this seem familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely linked. And you can understand how tinnitus and anxiety could easily conspire to produce a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can affect your health.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
Tinnitus is generally referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not that simple. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a wide variety of shapes, from pulsation to throbbing to ringing and so on. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. For many, tinnitus can manifest when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction in which feelings of dread, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are difficult to control and strong enough to hinder your daily life. This can materialize in many ways physically, that includes as tinnitus. So can tinnitus be caused by anxiety? Certainly!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combo of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- Usually, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself result in more anxiety.
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve acknowledged the link between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you notice tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
There are situations where tinnitus can start in one ear and eventually move to both. There are some instances where tinnitus is constant day and night. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Whether constant or sporadic, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yeah, anxiety-driven tinnitus could definitely be contributing to your sleep issues. Here are several examples of how:
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to ignore. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. As your anxiety about not sleeping increases, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can grow louder and even more difficult to tune out.
- The level of your stress will continue to rise the longer you go without sleep. The more stressed you are, the worse your tinnitus will be.
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. It’s nighttime, so you turn off everything. But your tinnitus can become much more obvious when everything is quiet.
When your anxiety is contributing to your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and fear that an anxiety attack is coming. This can, naturally, make it very hard 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 affects of insomnia will become much more severe. And your overall wellness can be negatively affected by this. Some of the most common impacts include the following:
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and well-being will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. You could find yourself at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Inferior work results: Obviously, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a good night’s sleep. Your thinking will be slower and your mood will be less positive.
- Elevated stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms already present will worsen if you’re not sleeping. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can occur.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily tasks will then be more dangerous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only source of anxiety. It’s important to know what these causes are so you can try to avoid stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus while you’re at it. Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Stress response: When something causes us great stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s great if you’re being chased by a lion. But it’s less good when you’re working on an assignment for work. Sometimes, 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 today. You might even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from a year ago, for instance.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some situations, have an increased anxiety response because of a medical condition.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can take place when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. Being in a crowded environment, for example, can cause some people to have an anxiety response.
Other causes: Less frequently, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:
- Some recreational drugs
- Lack of nutrition
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment possibilities.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
You have two general choices to manage anxiety-related tinnitus. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that might work in either circumstance:
There are a couple of possibilities for managing anxiety:
- Medication: In some instances, medication may help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic strategy will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully prevent anxiety attacks.
Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Some of the most common treatments include:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you suffer from tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you generate new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and lessen your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- White noise machine: When you’re attempting to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
You could get better sleep by addressing your tinnitus
As long as that humming or whooshing is keeping you up at night, you’ll be at risk of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible option. Contact us so we can help.