You’re lying in bed trying to sleep when you first notice the sound: a beating or maybe a throbbing, possibly a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, you can’t tune it out. You have a big day tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is no good. And all of a sudden you feel really anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely related. 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 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 beating or whooshing. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. When people get stressed out, for many, tinnitus can manifest.
For people who cope with feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings frequently hinder their life because they have difficulty controlling them. This can manifest in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Certainly!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combination of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more often at night. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Certainly, but it’s also feasible 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 little tricky. And that insomnia can itself result in more anxiety.
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first indication of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve acknowledged the link between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you experience tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could increase.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then change to the other. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. In other situations, it may pulsate for a few moments and then disappear. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combination can present some negative impacts on your health.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yeah, anxiety-driven tinnitus could easily be contributing to your sleep issues. Some examples of how are as follows:
- It can be challenging to disregard your tinnitus and that can be really stressful. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so persistent that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can become even louder and harder to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But your tinnitus can become much more obvious when everything is quiet.
- Your stress level will keep rising the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level increases your tinnitus gets worse.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. This can, understandably, make it very difficult to sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.
Health affects of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health impacts of insomnia will grow much more severe. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Here are a few of the most common effects:
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to impact your long-term health and well-being. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the consequence.
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms already present will worsen if you’re not sleeping. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related problems.
- Poor work performance: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t get to sleep, your job performance will become affected. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think clearly and quickly.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. This can make daily tasks like driving a little more hazardous. And it’s particularly dangerous if you run heavy equipment, for example.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only source of anxiety. It’s essential to recognize what these causes are so you can avoid stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus at the same time. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Medical conditions: In some instances, you might simply have a medical condition that makes you more prone to an increased anxiety response.
- Stress response: When something causes us great stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a tiger. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so great. Sometimes, it’s not so clear what the link between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress response last week. You may even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from last year, for instance.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can occur when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. Being in a crowded place, for example, can cause some individuals to have an anxiety attack.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors may also trigger anxiety:
- Lack of nutrition
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Stimulant usage (that includes caffeine)
- Some recreational drugs
This list is not exhaustive. And you should talk to your provider if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder.
How to treat your anxiety-related tinnitus?
You have two basic options to treat anxiety-related tinnitus. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be addressed. In either case, here’s how that might work:
There are a couple of options for managing anxiety:
- Medication: In some cases, medication could 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 effectively 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: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can decrease the disruptive effect it has. CBT is a method that helps them do that by helping them create new thought patterns.
- White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, use a white noise machine. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
You could get better sleep by addressing 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 up at night. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Give us a call so we can help.