You first notice the sound when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. You have a big day tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is bad. 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. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and impacts your health can be the outcome.
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 noises can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. When people experience stress, for many people, tinnitus can manifest.
An anxiety disorder is a condition in which feelings of dread, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are difficult to control and strong enough to hinder your daily life. 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 particular combo of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- You might be having a more severe anxiety attack if you begin to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this connection, any episode of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
- Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more frequently at night. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Certainly, but it’s also possible that the ringing’s been there all day and your usual activities were simply loud enough to hide the sound. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then change to the other. There are some instances where tinnitus is continuous day and night. In other situations, it might pulsate for a few minutes and then go away. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yeah, anxiety-driven tinnitus could definitely be causing your sleep issues. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to get stressed out. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
- Most individuals 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 silent.
- It can be hard to ignore your tinnitus and that can be extremely stressful. If you’re laying there just trying to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you awake all night. 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 anxiety is contributing to your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is near. This can, naturally, make it very hard to sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, kind of makes everything worse.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health affects of insomnia will grow much more substantial. And this can really have a negative affect on your wellness. Some of the most common impacts include the following:
- Inferior work performance: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t get to sleep, your job efficiency will become affected. Your thinking will be slower and your mood will be more negative.
- Elevated stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily activities will then be more hazardous. And it’s especially dangerous if you operate heavy equipment, for example.
- Higher 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.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only source of anxiety. And understanding these causes is important (mostly because they will help you prevent anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can bring on an anxiety attack. For instance, being in a can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some cases, have an increased anxiety response because of a medical condition.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something stresses us. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s great. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so great. Often, it’s not so clear what the relationship between the two is. Something that triggered a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. You may even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from last year, for example.
Other factors: Less frequently, anxiety disorders may be caused by some of the following factors:
- Certain recreational drugs
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
- Lack of nutrition
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you believe you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment solutions.
Dealing with anxiety-induced tinnitus
With regards to anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two basic options at hand. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be dealt with. Here’s how that might work in either case:
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 obvious.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic approach will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
There are a variety of ways to treat tinnitus and this is especially true if symptoms manifest primarily at night. Some of the most common treatments include:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can decrease the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a strategy that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This can help minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
- White noise machine: When you’re attempting to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this strategy.
Addressing your tinnitus could help you sleep better
As long as that humming 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. One plan is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should give us a call.