You’re lying down in bed attempting to sleep when you begin to hear the sound: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing in it. The sound is beating at the same rhythm as your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, 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 suddenly you feel very anxious, not very sleepy.
Does this situation sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to generate a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can affect your health.
Can anxiety trigger tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, lots of different noises can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. When people get stressed out, for many, tinnitus can appear.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction in which feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are hard to control and intense enough to hinder your daily life. Tinnitus is just one of several ways this can physically manifest. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Absolutely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Usually, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Sure, but it’s also feasible that the ringing’s been there all day and your usual activities were simply loud enough to mask the sound. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve acknowledged the link between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you notice tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then move to the other. There are some instances where tinnitus is constant day and night. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Whether constant or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
Your sleep loss could certainly be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. Some examples of how are as follows:
- It can be hard to disregard your tinnitus and that can be really stressful. If you’re laying there just trying to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you up all night. Your tinnitus can become 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 bedtime. But your tinnitus can be much more obvious when everything is quiet.
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to get stressed out. As your stress level goes up your tinnitus gets worse.
When your anxiety is causing your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is near. It’s no wonder that you’re losing sleep. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more severe as this vicious cycle continues. And your overall wellness can be negatively affected by this. Here are some of the most common effects:
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to affect your long-term health and well-being. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the consequence.
- Inferior work results: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be more negative.
- 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.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. This can make daily activities such as driving a little more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. And knowing these causes is important (mainly because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. That’s great if you’re being chased by a tiger. But it’s less good when you’re dealing with an assignment for work. Often, it’s not so obvious what the link between the two is. Something that caused a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack today. Even a stressor from a year ago can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can happen when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For example, being in a can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some people.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some instances, have an elevated anxiety response because of a medical condition.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors could also cause anxiety:
- Some recreational drugs
- Poor nutrition
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
This list is not complete. And if you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment possibilities.
Dealing with anxiety-related tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two basic choices available. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be dealt with. Here’s how that might work in either circumstance:
There are a couple of possibilities for treating anxiety:
- Medication: In some cases, medication may help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic strategy will help you identify thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. By interrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully avoid anxiety attacks.
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 may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- 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): If somebody with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can decrease the disruptive impact it has. CBT is an approach that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
You could 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 awake at night. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Give us a call so we can help.