You first notice the sound when you’re lying in bed attempting to sleep: a pulsing or perhaps 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 lot to do tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is no good. Not only are you not feeling sleepy, you feel anxious.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely related. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and affects your health can be the outcome.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
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 external sound. When people experience stress, for many, tinnitus can manifest.
For individuals who cope with feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings often interfere with their life because they have trouble controlling them. Tinnitus is only one of several ways this can physically materialize. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Definitely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first indication of a more serious anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve made this association, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether caused by anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
- Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more frequently at night. Can ringing in the ears be caused 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 mask the sound. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that sleeplessness can itself result in more anxiety.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then move to the other. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. In other cases, it might pulsate for a few moments and then disappear. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can present some negative impacts on your health.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yes, anxiety-driven tinnitus could easily be contributing to your sleep problems. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and hard to dismiss. 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 get louder and even harder to tune out.
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleep. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
- Most people sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. You turn everything off because it’s time for bed. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can become much more obvious.
When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and fear that an anxiety attack is coming. It’s not surprising that you’re losing sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.
How lack of sleep affects your health
As this vicious cycle continues, the health impacts of insomnia will grow much more severe. And this can really have a negative affect on your wellness. Here are a few of the most common impacts:
- Poor work performance: Clearly, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. 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. Driving and other daily activities will then be more hazardous. And it’s especially dangerous if you operate heavy machinery, for instance.
- Elevated stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to impact your long-term health and wellness. Increased danger of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other causes of anxiety besides tinnitus. And knowing these causes is essential (mainly because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something causes us stress. That’s great if you’re being chased by a lion. But when you’re dealing with a project at work, that’s not so great. oftentimes, the relationship between the two is not obvious. Something that caused a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. Even a stressor from a year ago can cause an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can cause an anxiety attack. For example, being around crowds can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some people.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some cases, have an elevated anxiety response due to a medical condition.
Other causes: Less frequently, anxiety disorders might be caused by some of the following factors:
- Poor nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Stimulant usage (that includes caffeine)
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should seek advice from your provider if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder.
Dealing with anxiety-induced tinnitus
When it comes to anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two general options available. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that might work in either case:
Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic strategy will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. By interrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more effectively avoid anxiety attacks.
- Medication: Medications might be used, in other situations, to make anxiety symptoms less prevalent.
Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Here are some common treatments:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can reduce the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a method that helps them do that by helping them create new thought patterns.
- 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: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
You may get better sleep by addressing your tinnitus
As long as that humming or whooshing is keeping you awake at night, you’ll be at risk of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible solution. To do that, you should give us a call.