You’re lying down in bed trying to sleep when you begin to notice the sound: a pulsing or perhaps a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, right in your ear. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. You have a lot to do tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is no good. And all of a sudden you feel very anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this seem familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. And you can understand how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to create a vicious cycle, one that robs you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
Tinnitus is generally referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not as simple as that. First of all, the actual sound you hear can take a large number of forms, from pulsation to throbbing to buzzing and so on. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. For many, tinnitus can appear when you’re feeling stressed, 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. This can materialize in many ways physically, that includes as tinnitus. So can tinnitus be caused by anxiety? Definitely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combination 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 triggered by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your day-to-day activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make getting to sleep a bit tricky. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve made this association, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then move to the other. Sometimes, it can hang 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?
Your sleep loss could certainly be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. Here are a few examples of how:
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and difficult 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 grows, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can get louder and even harder to tune out.
- 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 silent.
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to become stressed. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is coming. This can, understandably, make it very hard to sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
Health affects of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health affects of insomnia will grow much more severe. And this can really have a detrimental affect on your wellness. Here are a few of the most common impacts:
- Increased stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related symptoms.
- Poor work performance: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t get to sleep, your job performance will suffer. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be more negative.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to impact your long-term health and well-being. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the result.
- Slower reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. Driving and other daily tasks will then be more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. It’s essential to know what these causes are so you can stay away from stress triggers and possibly reduce your tinnitus at the same time. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Medical conditions: You might, in some cases, have an elevated anxiety response due to a medical condition.
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. If you’re being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good thing. But it’s less good when you’re working on a project for work. Sometimes, it’s not so clear what the link between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack today from something that caused a stress response a week ago. You might even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from last year, for instance.
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can bring on an anxiety episode. For example, being around crowds can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors may also trigger anxiety:
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Lack of nutrition
- Some recreational drugs
This list is not complete. And you should consult your provider if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder.
Dealing with anxiety-related tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two general options available. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be dealt with. In either situation, here’s how that might work:
There are a couple of possibilities for treating anxiety:
- Medication: In some cases, medication could help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less obvious.
- 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 effectively avoid anxiety attacks.
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: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms might be able to be masked by this strategy.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to 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 minimize the disruptive impact it has. CBT is an approach that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
You may get better sleep by addressing your tinnitus
As long as that humming or whooshing is keeping you awake 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 solution. Give us a call so we can help.