You’re lying down in bed trying to sleep when you first notice the sound: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, which is not good because you need your sleep and you have a big day tomorrow. And all of a sudden you feel really anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this situation sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely related. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and affects your health can be the outcome.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a wide variety of forms, from pulsation to throbbing to ringing and so on. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. For many people, tinnitus can happen when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
For individuals who experience feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings frequently interfere with their life because they have trouble managing them. This can manifest in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Certainly!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combo of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve made this connection, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
- Normally, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Sure, but it’s also feasible that the ringing’s been there all day and your ordinary activities were simply loud enough to hide the sound. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself cause more anxiety.
There are situations where tinnitus can start in one ear and eventually move to both. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combination can present some negative impacts on your health.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
Your sleep loss could absolutely be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The level of your stress will keep rising the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level increases your tinnitus will get worse.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to dismiss. If you’re laying there just trying to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you up all night. Your tinnitus can become even louder and harder to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
- 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 quiet.
When your anxiety is contributing to your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is coming. This can, understandably, make it very difficult to sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health affects of insomnia will become much more significant. And this can really have a detrimental impact on your wellness. Here are some of the most common impacts:
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to affect your long-term health and well-being. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the result.
- Elevated stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will worsen if you don’t sleep. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
- Poor work performance: Obviously, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. You won’t be as eager or be able to think clearly and quickly.
- Slower reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. Driving and other daily tasks will then be more hazardous. And it’s especially dangerous if you operate heavy equipment, for example.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. And recognizing these causes is important (mainly because they will help you prevent anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:
- Medical conditions: You may, in some situations, have an increased anxiety response due to a medical condition.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a natural anxiety response when something stresses us. If you’re being chased by a wild animal, that’s great. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so good. Sometimes, it’s not so clear what the link between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress reaction last week. Even a stressor from last year can cause an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can happen when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For instance, being around crowds can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors may also cause anxiety:
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
- Poor nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
This list is not exhaustive. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment options.
Treating anxiety-related tinnitus
You have two general choices to treat anxiety-related tinnitus. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be dealt with. Here’s how that might work in either case:
There are a couple of options for treating anxiety:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently worsen your anxiety symptoms and this strategy will help you recognize those thought patterns. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
- Medication: Medications might be used, in other circumstances, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.
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): When you suffer from tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you produce new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and minimize your tinnitus symptoms.
- 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: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this strategy.
You may get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
As long as that humming or whooshing is keeping you up 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.