You first notice the sound when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep: a pulsing or perhaps a throbbing, possibly 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. You have a big day tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is not good. And all of a sudden you feel really anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this situation sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely related. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety could easily conspire to create a vicious cycle, one that robs you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
Generally, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a little more complicated than that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a large number of shapes, from pulsing to throbbing to ringing and so on. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. For many people, tinnitus can happen when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is definitely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction where feelings of dread, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are hard to control and strong enough to interfere with your daily life. Tinnitus is just one of several ways this can physically manifest. So can tinnitus be caused by anxiety? 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:
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar episode). 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 often at night. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Sure, 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 it harder to get to sleep. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
There are situations where tinnitus can start in one ear and at some point move to both. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could definitely be causing your sleep troubles. Some examples of how are as follows:
- Your stress level will keep rising the longer you go without sleep. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will be.
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. It’s night, so you turn everything off. But when everything else is quiet, your tinnitus can become much more noticeable.
- It can be hard to disregard 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 ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing noise. It’s no wonder that you’re having trouble sleeping. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, kind of makes everything worse.
How lack of sleep affects your health
As this vicious cycle continues, the health affects of insomnia will grow much more significant. And this can really have a detrimental affect on your wellness. Here are some of the most common effects:
- Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. This can make daily activities like driving a little more dangerous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and well-being will be affected over time by lack of sleep. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Poor work results: Obviously, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a good night’s sleep. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
- 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 result.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only cause of anxiety. It’s essential to know what these causes are so you can try to avoid stress triggers and possibly reduce your tinnitus at the same time. Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can result in an anxiety attack. For example, being around crowds can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a natural anxiety response when something stresses us. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good thing. But when you’re dealing with a project at work, that’s not so good. Sometimes, the connection between the two is not very clear. Something that triggered a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. Even a stressor from last year can cause an anxiety attack now.
- Medical conditions: You might, in some cases, have a heightened anxiety response because of a medical condition.
Other factors: Less commonly, anxiety disorders might be caused by some of the following factors:
- Certain recreational drugs
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Poor nutrition
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should consult your provider if you believe you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
You have two general options to treat anxiety-induced tinnitus. You can either try to treat the anxiety or treat the tinnitus. Here’s how that may work in either case:
There are a couple of options for treating anxiety:
- Medication: Medications might be used, in other situations, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently worsen your anxiety symptoms and this strategy will help you identify those thought patterns. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by disrupting those thought patterns.
Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Some of the most common treatments include:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you are dealing with tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you generate new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and decrease your tinnitus symptoms.
- White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, use a white noise machine. 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 minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
You could get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
You’ll be in danger 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. Contact us so we can help.