You first notice the sound when you’re lying in bed attempting to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing in it. The sound is pulsing in rhythm with your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, 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? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely linked. And you can understand 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 caused by anxiety?
Generally, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complex than that. Firstly, many different noises can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. When people get stressed out, for many, tinnitus can manifest.
An anxiety disorder is a condition where feelings of dread, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are hard 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 triggered by anxiety? Absolutely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combination bad?
There are a couple of reasons why this particular combo of tinnitus and anxiety can lead to bad news:
- You may be having a more severe anxiety attack if you start to spike tinnitus symptoms. 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.
- Most individuals tend to experience tinnitus more often at night. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Certainly, but it’s also possible that the ringing’s been there all day and your normal activities were simply loud enough to mask the sound. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself cause more anxiety.
There are situations where tinnitus can manifest in one ear and eventually move to both. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Whether constant or intermittent, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could easily be causing your sleep problems. Here are a few examples of how:
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to become stressed out. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
- 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 quiet.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to ignore. If you’re laying there just attempting to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you awake all night. As your anxiety about not sleeping grows, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can grow louder and even more difficult to ignore.
When your anxiety is causing your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is coming. It’s no wonder that you’re losing sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
Health affects of lack of sleep
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more significant as this vicious cycle continues. And this can really have a negative impact on your wellness. Some of the most common impacts include the following:
- Poor work results: It should come as no shock that if you can’t sleep, your job performance will become affected. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
- Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. This can make daily activities like driving a little more hazardous. And it’s especially hazardous if you run heavy equipment, for example.
- Elevated stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will get worse if you don’t sleep. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can occur.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to affect your long-term health and well-being. Increased danger of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other causes of anxiety besides tinnitus. And understanding these causes is essential (mainly because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can result in an anxiety episode. For instance, being in a can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some people.
- 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 great stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a tiger. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so great. Sometimes, the connection between the two is not very clear. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress reaction last week. You might even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from last year, for example.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:
- Lack of nutrition
- Some recreational drugs
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
This list is not exhaustive. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment options.
Dealing with anxiety-related tinnitus
You have two general options to treat anxiety-related tinnitus. You can either try to treat the anxiety or treat the tinnitus. In either case, here’s how that may work:
Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are managed in one of two ways:
- Medication: Medications may be utilized, in other circumstances, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.
- 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 effectively avoid 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:
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This might help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- White noise machine: Use a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this strategy.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can minimize the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a method that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
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 in danger of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. One plan is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should contact us.