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 rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, which is bad because you need your sleep and you’ve got a big day tomorrow. Not only are you not feeling sleepy, you feel anxious.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely related. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to create a vicious cycle, one that robs you of your sleep, your rest, and can affect your health.
Can anxiety lead to tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Firstly, lots of different noises can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. When people get stressed out, for many people, tinnitus can appear.
For people who experience feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings frequently interfere with their life because they have trouble controlling them. Tinnitus is just one of the many ways this can physically materialize. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Absolutely!
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:
- Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more frequently at night. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Sure, 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 getting to sleep a little tricky. And that insomnia can itself result in more anxiety.
- You may be having a more severe anxiety attack if you start to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this connection, any episode of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then change to the other. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. In other cases, it might pulsate for a few moments and then go away. Whether continuous or intermittent, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety impact your sleep?
Your sleep loss could certainly be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Here are several examples of how:
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more obvious.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and difficult to dismiss. If you’re laying there just attempting 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 ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to get stressed out. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is near. This can, naturally, make it very hard to sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health affects of insomnia will grow much more substantial. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Some of the most common impacts include the following:
- Poor work results: Obviously, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be more negative.
- Increased 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 consequence.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. This can make daily tasks like driving a little more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Increased 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 occur.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only source of anxiety. And understanding these causes is essential (largely because they will help you prevent anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. If you’re being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good thing. But it’s not so good when you’re working on an assignment for work. oftentimes, the relationship between the two isn’t very clear. You could have an anxiety attack today from something that caused a stress reaction a week ago. Even a stressor from last year can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Medical conditions: You might, in some cases, have a heightened anxiety response because of a medical condition.
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can cause an anxiety attack. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety attack.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors could also cause anxiety:
- Certain recreational drugs
- Lack of nutrition
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
This list is not exhaustive. And you should talk to your provider if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
With regards to anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two general choices available. You can either try to treat the anxiety or address the tinnitus. Here’s how that might work in either circumstance:
There are a couple of options for treating anxiety:
- Medication: Medications may be utilized, in other situations, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic method will help you identify thought patterns that can unintentionally worsen your anxiety symptoms. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully avoid anxiety attacks.
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:
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear beside your ears. This can help minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
- White noise machine: Use a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can acknowledge 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 generate new thought patterns.
Addressing your tinnitus could help you sleep better
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. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Give us a call so we can help.