You first hear the sound when you’re lying in bed attempting to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing in it. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, you can’t tune it out. You have a lot to do tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is bad. Not only are you not feeling sleepy, you feel anxious.
Does this seem familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety could easily conspire to generate a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
Generally, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complicated 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. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. When people experience stress, for many, tinnitus can manifest.
For individuals who cope with feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings frequently interfere with their life because they have difficulty managing them. Tinnitus is just one of several ways this can physically materialize. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Certainly!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combination bad?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Normally, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Sure, but it’s also possible that the ringing’s been there all day and your normal activities were simply loud enough to cover up the sound. This can make falling asleep a bit tricky. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
- You may be having a more serious anxiety attack if you start to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this association, any episode of tinnitus (whether caused by anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
There are instances where tinnitus can start in one ear and eventually move to both. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. There are other situations where it comes and goes. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yeah, anxiety-driven tinnitus could easily be causing your sleep problems. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to become stressed out. As your stress level rises your tinnitus gets worse.
- It can be challenging 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. As your anxiety about not sleeping grows, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can get louder and even more difficult to ignore.
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. It’s night, so you turn everything off. But when everything else is quiet, your tinnitus can be much more obvious.
When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is near. It’s no wonder that you’re having trouble sleeping. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, kind of makes everything worse.
Health impacts 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 impact on your wellness. Here are a few of the most common effects:
- Poor work results: 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.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily activities will then be more dangerous. And it’s especially hazardous if you operate heavy equipment, for example.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to affect your long-term health and well-being. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Elevated stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other causes of anxiety besides tinnitus. And recognizing these causes is important (largely because they will help you prevent anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Medical conditions: You may, in some instances, have an increased anxiety response due to a medical condition.
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s great. But it’s less good when you’re dealing with an assignment for work. Sometimes, the association between the two is not obvious. Something that triggered a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. You might even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from last year, for example.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can happen when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For instance, being in a can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some people.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors might also trigger anxiety:
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Some recreational drugs
- Poor nutrition
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
This list is not complete. And you should consult your provider if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder.
How to fix your anxiety-related tinnitus?
You have two basic options to manage anxiety-induced tinnitus. You can either try to treat the anxiety or address the tinnitus. Here’s how that might work in either case:
There are a couple of options for treating anxiety:
- Medication: In some cases, medication may help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently worsen your anxiety symptoms and this strategy will help you identify those thought patterns. By interrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more effectively prevent 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: Use a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this approach.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can reduce the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a strategy that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This can help minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
Addressing your tinnitus could help you sleep better
As long as that thrumming 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. Dealing with your tinnitus first is one possible solution. To do that, you should give us a call.