You’re lying in bed trying to sleep when you begin to notice the sound: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing 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. It keeps you awake, which is not good because you need your sleep and you have a big day tomorrow. And all of a sudden you feel very anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this seem familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely linked. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety could 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?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complex than that. Firstly, lots of different sounds can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. When people experience stress, for many people, tinnitus can manifest.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction where feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are difficult to control and intense enough to interfere with your daily life. Tinnitus is only one of the many ways this can physically materialize. So can tinnitus be caused by anxiety? Absolutely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
This combination of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Normally, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger 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 getting to sleep a bit tricky. And that insomnia can itself cause more anxiety.
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first sign of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve made this association, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether caused by anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then change to the other. There are some instances where tinnitus is continuous day and night. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could definitely be causing your sleep issues. Here are several examples of how:
- The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and difficult to ignore. 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 more difficult to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But when everything else is quiet, your tinnitus can become much more noticeable.
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to get stressed. As your stress level rises your tinnitus will get worse.
When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and fear that an anxiety attack is near. It’s not surprising that you’re having trouble sleeping. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, kind of makes everything worse.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health impacts of insomnia will become much more significant. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Here are a few of the most common impacts:
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and wellness will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. This can make daily tasks such as driving a little more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Inferior work results: Clearly, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. You won’t be as eager or be able to think clearly and quickly.
- Elevated stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms already present will get worse if you don’t sleep. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can occur.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only source of anxiety. And knowing these causes is essential (mostly because they will help you prevent anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Medical conditions: You may, in some situations, have an elevated anxiety response because of a medical condition.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can take place when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For example, being in a can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some.
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a tiger. But it’s less good when you’re dealing with a project for work. oftentimes, the association between the two isn’t very clear. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress reaction a week ago. Even a stressor from a year ago can trigger an anxiety attack now.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders may be caused by some of the following factors:
- Certain recreational drugs
- Poor nutrition
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment solutions.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
You have two basic choices to manage anxiety-induced tinnitus. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that may work in either circumstance:
In general, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Medication: In some instances, medication could 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 method will help you identify those thought patterns. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more effectively avoid anxiety attacks.
Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Some of the most common treatments include:
- White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you are dealing with tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you generate new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and minimize your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear beside your ears. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
Addressing your tinnitus could 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 awake at night. One plan is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should give us a call.