You first hear the sound when you’re lying in bed attempting to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is pulsing in rhythm with your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you up, which is not good because you need your sleep and you’ve got a big day tomorrow. Not only are you not feeling tired, you feel anxious.
Does this situation sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely related. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to create a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can affect your health.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, many different sounds can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. For many, tinnitus can happen when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is a condition in which feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are difficult to control and severe enough to hinder your daily life. This can materialize in many ways physically, that includes 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:
- You may be having a more severe anxiety attack if you begin to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve recognized the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you notice tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
- Usually, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your everyday activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself cause 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 go away. Whether continuous or intermittent, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yeah, anxiety-driven tinnitus could definitely be contributing to your sleep troubles. Here are a few examples of how:
- It can be hard to ignore your tinnitus and that can be really stressful. If you’re laying there just attempting to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you up all night. Your tinnitus can get even louder and more difficult to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- Your stress level will keep rising the longer you go without sleeping. The more stressed you are, the worse your tinnitus will be.
- Most individuals sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. It’s night, so you turn off everything. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more obvious.
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 become much more substantial. And this can really have a detrimental impact on your wellness. Some of the most common impacts include the following:
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will get worse if you don’t sleep. This can result in a vicious cycle of mental health-related problems.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and well-being will be affected over time by lack of sleep. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the result.
- Poor work results: It should come as no shock that if you can’t sleep, your job performance will suffer. Your thinking will be slower and your mood will be less positive.
- Slower reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. Driving and other daily activities 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, is not the only source of anxiety. It’s important to recognize what these causes are so you can avoid stress triggers and possibly decrease your tinnitus at the same time. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s great if you’re being chased by a tiger. But it’s less good when you’re working on an assignment for work. Often, it’s not so obvious what the relationship between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress response a week ago. Even a stressor from last year can cause an anxiety attack now.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some instances, have an increased anxiety response because of a medical condition.
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can bring on an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded environment, for example, can cause some people to have an anxiety attack.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors may also trigger anxiety:
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
- Poor nutrition
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Some recreational drugs
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment possibilities.
Treating anxiety-related tinnitus
With regards to anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two basic options available. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be dealt with. In either case, here’s how that might work:
In general, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Medication: Medications may be utilized, in other situations, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently worsen your anxiety symptoms and this approach will help you recognize those thought patterns. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
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 minimize the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a strategy that helps them do that by helping them create new thought patterns.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This might help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, use a white noise machine. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
You may get better sleep by addressing 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. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible option. Contact us so we can help.