You’re lying down in bed attempting to sleep when you begin to notice the sound: a pulsing or perhaps a throbbing, possibly a whooshing, right in your ear. The sound is pulsing in rhythm with your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, you can’t tune it out. You have a big day tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is not good. Not only are you not feeling tired, you feel anxious.
Does this sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. A vicious cycle that deprives you of your sleep and affects your health can be the result.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a little more complex than that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a wide variety of forms, from pulsation to throbbing to buzzing and so on. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. When people get stressed out, for many, tinnitus can manifest.
For individuals who cope with feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings often hinder their life because they have difficulty controlling them. This can materialize in many ways physically, that includes as tinnitus. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Definitely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
This combination of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more frequently at night. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself cause more anxiety.
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve acknowledged the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you notice tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then change to the other. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. There are other situations where it comes and goes. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can present some negative impacts on your health.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yeah, anxiety-driven tinnitus could easily be contributing to your sleep problems. Here are several 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 be.
- Most people sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. It’s nighttime, so you turn everything off. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more obvious.
- The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and hard to dismiss. If you’re laying there just attempting to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you up all night. Your tinnitus can get even louder and harder to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
When your anxiety is contributing to your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is coming. This can, naturally, make it very hard to sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of problems.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health impacts of insomnia will become much more significant. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Here are a few of the most common impacts:
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will worsen if you’re not sleeping. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and wellness will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. This can make daily tasks like driving a little more hazardous. And it’s especially hazardous if you operate heavy machinery, for example.
- Inferior work results: Clearly, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. You won’t be as eager or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only cause of anxiety. And knowing these causes is essential (mostly because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can occur when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For example, being around crowds can sometimes trigger 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 elevated anxiety response.
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s great. 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. Something that caused a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. You might even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from a year ago, for instance.
Other causes: Less frequently, anxiety disorders might be caused by some of the following factors:
- Poor nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment options.
Dealing with anxiety-induced tinnitus
When it comes to anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two general choices available. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that might work in either case:
There are a couple of possibilities for treating anxiety:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently worsen your anxiety symptoms and this method will help you recognize those thought patterns. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully avoid 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:
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear beside your ears. This can help minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can decrease the disruptive impact it has. CBT is an approach that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
- White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this strategy.
Addressing your tinnitus could help you sleep better
You’ll be in danger 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. Contact us so we can help.