You first notice the sound when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And no matter 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 not good. Not only are you not feeling sleepy, you feel anxious.
Does this seem familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely related. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and affects your health can be the outcome.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
Tinnitus is generally defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not as simple as that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a large number of shapes, from pulsation to throbbing to ringing and so on. Basically, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. For many people, tinnitus can occur when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction where 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 materialize in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Absolutely!
What’s bad about this combination of anxiety and tinnitus?
This combination of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Most individuals tend to experience tinnitus more often at night. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing might 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 more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve recognized the link between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you experience tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could increase.
There are instances where tinnitus can start in one ear and at some point move to both. There are some cases where tinnitus is continuous day and night. In other situations, it may pulsate for a few moments and then go away. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can have negative health consequences.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could easily be contributing to your sleep issues. Here are several examples of how:
- Most individuals 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.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and difficult to dismiss. If you’re laying there just trying to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you awake all night. As your anxiety about not sleeping increases, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can grow louder and even more difficult to ignore.
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level increases your tinnitus will get worse.
When your anxiety is contributing to your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is near. This can, obviously, make it very difficult to sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
How lack of sleep impacts your health
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more significant as this vicious cycle carries on. And your overall wellness can be negatively affected by this. Here are some of the most common impacts:
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms already present will worsen if you don’t sleep. This can result in a vicious cycle of mental health-related problems.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to impact your long-term health and wellness. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
- Inferior work performance: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t sleep, your job performance will suffer. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think clearly and quickly.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. Driving and other daily activities will then be more hazardous. And it’s particularly dangerous if you operate heavy machinery, for instance.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. It’s important to know what these causes are so you can avoid stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus while you’re at it. Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s great if you’re being chased by a lion. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so great. Sometimes, the relationship between the two isn’t obvious. Something that caused a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack today. You may even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from last year, for example.
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can bring on an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety attack.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some instances, have an elevated anxiety response because of a medical condition.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders might be caused by some of the following factors:
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
- Certain recreational drugs
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Lack of nutrition
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should consult your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
When it comes to anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two general options available. You can either try to treat the anxiety or address the tinnitus. In either situation, 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 worsen your anxiety symptoms and this strategy will help you recognize those thought patterns. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
- 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. Here are some common treatments:
- White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, use a white noise machine. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can reduce the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a method that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
- 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.
Addressing your tinnitus may help you sleep better
You’ll be at risk of falling into a vicious cycle of anxiety and tinnitus if the whooshing and ringing are keeping you up at night. One plan is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should give us a call.