You’re lying in bed trying to sleep when you first notice the sound: a pulsing or maybe a throbbing, possibly a whooshing, right in 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. And all of a sudden you feel really anxious, not very sleepy.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and impacts your health can be the outcome.
Can anxiety trigger tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a little more complex than that. Firstly, lots of different noises can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. When people get stressed out, for many people, tinnitus can appear.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction in which feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are difficult to control and intense enough to hinder your daily life. Tinnitus is just one of several ways this can physically materialize. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Certainly!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
This combination of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- You may be having a more serious anxiety attack if you begin to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this association, any episode of tinnitus (whether related to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
- Usually, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your day-to-day activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make falling asleep a little tricky. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
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 go away. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can present some negative impacts on your health.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could easily be causing your sleep troubles. Some examples of how are as follows:
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleeping. As your stress level goes up your tinnitus will get worse.
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. It’s night, so you turn off everything. But your tinnitus can be much more noticeable when everything is silent.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and difficult to dismiss. If you’re laying there just trying to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you awake all night. Your tinnitus can become even louder and harder to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
When your tinnitus is caused by anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing noise. This can, naturally, make it very difficult to sleep. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, kind of makes everything worse.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more profound as this vicious cycle carries on. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Some of the most common effects include the following:
- Poor work results: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t sleep, your job efficiency will become affected. Your thinking will be sluggish 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 occur.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to affect your long-term health and well-being. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. Driving and other daily tasks will then be more dangerous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only source of anxiety. It’s important to know what these causes are so you can stay away from stress triggers and maybe reduce your tinnitus at the same time. Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can cause an anxiety attack. For example, being around crowds can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some.
- Medical conditions: In some situations, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more prone to a heightened anxiety response.
- 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 working on a project at work, that’s not so great. Sometimes, it’s not so obvious what the link between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack today 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 example.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors could also cause anxiety:
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
- Some recreational drugs
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Lack of nutrition
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should talk to your provider if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder.
How to fix your anxiety-induced tinnitus?
You have two basic options to manage anxiety-related tinnitus. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that might work in either case:
In general, anxiety disorders are managed in one of two ways:
- Medication: Medications might be used, in other situations, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this strategy will help you identify those thought patterns. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully avoid anxiety attacks.
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:
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- White noise machine: Use a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this strategy.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you are dealing with tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you produce new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and reduce your tinnitus symptoms.
Addressing your tinnitus may help you sleep better
As long as that thrumming or whooshing is keeping you up at night, you’ll be in danger of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible option. To do that, you should give us a call.