You first notice the sound when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep: a pulsing or perhaps a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And once you notice that sound, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, which is bad because you need your sleep and you’ve got a big day tomorrow. And all of a sudden you feel very anxious, not very sleepy.
Does this situation sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely related. A vicious cycle that deprives you of your sleep and affects your health can be the result.
Can anxiety lead to tinnitus?
Generally, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complex than that. Firstly, many different noises can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. For many, tinnitus can manifest when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
For individuals who cope with feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings frequently interfere with their life because they have difficulty controlling them. Tinnitus is only one of several ways this can physically materialize. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Definitely!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combo of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- Usually, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make getting to sleep a little tricky. And that insomnia can itself lead to more anxiety.
- You might be having a more severe anxiety attack if you begin to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this association, any episode of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then change to the other. There are some cases where tinnitus is constant day and night. In other situations, it may pulsate for a few moments and then go away. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can present some negative impacts on your health.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yes, anxiety-driven tinnitus could easily be causing your sleep issues. Here are several examples of how:
- It can be challenging to ignore your tinnitus and that can be very stressful. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can get even louder and more difficult to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
- Your stress level will keep rising the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level increases your tinnitus gets worse.
- Most individuals 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 obvious when everything is silent.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you might fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. It’s not surprising that you’re losing sleep. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health affects of insomnia will become much more substantial. And your general wellness can be negatively affected by this. Some of the most common effects include the following:
- Poor work performance: Clearly, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. This can make daily activities such as driving a little more hazardous. And it’s particularly hazardous if you run heavy machinery, for example.
- Elevated stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can result.
- Higher 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 an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only source of anxiety. It’s essential 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:
- Medical conditions: In some instances, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to a heightened anxiety response.
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can result in an anxiety attack. For instance, being around crowds can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some.
- 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 great. But it’s less good when you’re working on a project for work. Sometimes, the association between the two isn’t obvious. You could have an anxiety attack today from something that caused a stress response last week. Even a stressor from a year ago can cause an anxiety attack now.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors could also cause anxiety:
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Poor nutrition
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
- Some recreational drugs
This list is not exhaustive. And you should seek advice from your provider if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-related tinnitus
With regards to anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two basic choices available. 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 managing anxiety:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this strategy 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 cope 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, utilize a white noise machine. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear beside your ears. This can help minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you suffer from tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you create new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and reduce your tinnitus symptoms.
Addressing your tinnitus may help you sleep better
As long as that thrumming or whooshing is keeping you awake at night, you’ll be in danger of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible solution. Contact us so we can help.