You first hear the sound when you’re in bed trying to sleep: a pulsing or perhaps a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, right in 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 up, which is bad because you need your sleep and you’ve got a big day tomorrow. And all of a sudden you feel really anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this scenario 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 outcome.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not as simple as that. First of all, the actual sound you hear can take a large number of shapes, from pulsation to throbbing to ringing and so on. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. For many, tinnitus can manifest when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is a condition where feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are difficult to control and intense enough to hinder your daily life. This can materialize in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Absolutely!
What’s bad about this combination of anxiety and tinnitus?
This combination of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve made this association, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
- Most people tend to experience tinnitus more often at night. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? 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 more difficult to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself lead to more anxiety.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then change to the other. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. In other situations, it might pulsate for a few minutes and then disappear. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
Your sleep loss could certainly be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. Some examples of how are as follows:
- Your stress level will keep rising the longer you go without sleeping. The more stressed you are, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more noticeable.
- The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and difficult to ignore. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so persistent that you lie awake until morning. As your anxiety about not sleeping increases, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can grow louder and even more difficult to tune out.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you might worry that an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. It’s not surprising that you’re losing sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.
How lack of sleep impacts your health
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more severe as this vicious cycle carries on. And this can really have a negative impact on your wellness. Here are some of the most common effects:
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. Driving and other daily activities will then be more dangerous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Poor work performance: Clearly, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a good night’s sleep. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be less positive.
- 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.
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms already present will worsen if you’re not sleeping. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. It’s essential to recognize what these causes are so you can avoid stress triggers and possibly reduce your tinnitus at the same time. Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Medical conditions: You might, in some cases, have a heightened anxiety response due to a medical condition.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can happen when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. 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. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a tiger. But it’s not so good when you’re dealing with a project for work. oftentimes, the relationship between the two isn’t obvious. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress reaction last week. You might even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from a year ago, for instance.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors could also trigger anxiety:
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Poor nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should talk to your provider if you believe you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-related tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two general options at hand. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be dealt with. Here’s how that may work in either circumstance:
In general, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Medication: In some cases, medication may help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less obvious.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic method will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally worsen your anxiety symptoms. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by disrupting those thought patterns.
There are a variety of ways to treat tinnitus and this is especially true if symptoms manifest primarily at night. Here are some common treatments:
- White noise machine: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This can help reduce how much you notice your tinnitus.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you have tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you create new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and decrease your tinnitus symptoms.
You may 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 up at night. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should contact us.