You’re lying in bed trying to sleep when you begin to hear the sound: a pulsing 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 awake, which is not good because you need your sleep and you’ve got a big day tomorrow. And suddenly you feel really anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely related. And you can understand how tinnitus and anxiety could 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?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, lots of different sounds can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. Basically, you’re hearing a sound that isn’t really there. When people experience stress, for many, tinnitus can manifest.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction in which feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are difficult to control and severe enough to interfere with your daily life. Tinnitus is just one of the many ways this can physically materialize. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Definitely!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Tinnitus can often be the first indication of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve recognized the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you notice tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
- Most people tend to notice tinnitus more often at night. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
There are situations where tinnitus can start in one ear and eventually move to both. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. In other situations, it may pulsate for a few minutes and then go away. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
Your sleep loss could absolutely be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and difficult to overlook. If you’re laying there just trying to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you awake all night. Your tinnitus can get even louder and harder to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s time for bed. But your tinnitus can become much more noticeable when everything is silent.
- The level of your stress will continue to rise the longer you go without sleep. The more stressed you are, the worse your tinnitus will be.
When your anxiety is contributing to your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and fear that an anxiety attack is near. This can, naturally, make it very hard to sleep. But lack of sleep results in all kinds of problems.
How lack of sleep affects your health
As this vicious cycle continues, the health impacts of insomnia will become much more significant. And this can really have a detrimental impact on your wellness. Some of the most prevalent effects include the following:
- Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. This can make daily tasks like driving a little more hazardous. And it’s particularly hazardous if you operate heavy equipment, for example.
- Inferior work performance: Naturally, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a good night’s sleep. Your thinking will be slower and your mood will be less positive.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to impact your long-term health and well-being. Increased danger of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
- Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. This can result in a vicious cycle of mental health-related symptoms.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only cause of anxiety. It’s important to recognize what these causes are so you can stay away from stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus at the same time. Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can happen when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. Being in a crowded place, for example, can cause some people to have an anxiety response.
- Stress response: When something causes us great stress, our bodies will naturally 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 great. Sometimes, the connection between the two isn’t apparent. Something that caused a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. Even a stressor from a year ago can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Medical conditions: You might, in some situations, have a heightened anxiety response because of a medical condition.
Other causes: Less frequently, anxiety disorders may be caused by some of the following factors:
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Poor nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
This list is not exhaustive. And if you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment options.
How to deal with your anxiety-related tinnitus?
With regards to anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two general choices available. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be dealt with. Here’s how that might work in either circumstance:
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 approach will help you identify those thought patterns. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by disrupting 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:
- White noise machine: When you’re attempting to sleep, use a white noise machine. Your tinnitus symptoms might be able to be masked by this strategy.
- 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 have tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you produce new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and reduce your tinnitus symptoms.
You could get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
As long as that humming or whooshing is keeping you up at night, you’ll be at risk of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Contact us so we can help.