You first notice the sound when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep: a beating or perhaps a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you up, which is not good because you need your sleep and you have a big day tomorrow. And suddenly you feel really anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this situation sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely related. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to generate a vicious cycle, one that robs you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a little more complex than that. Firstly, lots of different sounds can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. When people experience stress, for many people, tinnitus can manifest.
For people who experience feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings often hinder their life because they have difficulty controlling them. Tinnitus is only one of several ways this can physically manifest. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Definitely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first sign of a more serious anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve recognized the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you experience tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could increase.
- Usually, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Sure, but it’s also feasible that the ringing’s been there all day and your normal activities were simply loud enough to hide the sound. This can make falling asleep a little tricky. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then move to the other. There are some cases where tinnitus is continuous day and night. In other situations, it might pulsate for a few moments and then go away. Whether constant or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
Your sleep loss could absolutely be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Some examples of how are as follows:
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can become much more obvious.
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level increases your tinnitus gets worse.
- It can be hard to ignore your tinnitus and that can be very stressful. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so persistent that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can become even louder and more difficult to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is near. This can, naturally, make it very difficult to sleep. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
How lack of sleep affects your health
As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health affects of insomnia will grow much more substantial. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Here are a few of the most common effects:
- Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can occur.
- Poor work performance: Obviously, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be less positive.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. This can make daily activities like driving a little more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to affect your long-term health and wellness. Increased danger of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only cause of anxiety. It’s important to recognize what these causes are so you can try to avoid stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus at the same time. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- 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 lion. But it’s less good when you’re working on an assignment for work. Sometimes, it’s not so clear what the relationship between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress response a week ago. Even a stressor from last year can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can occur when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For example, being in a can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some.
- Medical conditions: In some instances, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to an increased anxiety response.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
- Lack of nutrition
- Some recreational drugs
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should consult your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
Dealing with anxiety-related tinnitus
When it comes to anxiety-induced 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 might work:
In general, anxiety disorders are managed in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this method will help you recognize those thought patterns. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
- Medication: In some instances, medication could help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.
Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Here are some common treatments:
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear beside your ears. This can help reduce how much you notice your tinnitus.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you are dealing with tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you create new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and reduce your tinnitus symptoms.
- White noise machine: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
You may get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
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. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible option. Give us a call so we can help.