You’re lying in bed trying to sleep when you first notice the sound: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing in it. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you up, which is bad because you need your sleep and you have a big day tomorrow. Not only are you not feeling sleepy, you feel anxious.
Does this situation 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 cause tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Firstly, lots of different noises can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. Basically, you’re hearing a sound that isn’t really there. For many people, tinnitus can manifest when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is definitely 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 interfere with your daily life. Tinnitus is just one of several ways this can physically manifest. So can tinnitus be caused by anxiety? Certainly!
What’s bad about this combination of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this particular combination of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first indication of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve made this association, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
- Most people tend to experience tinnitus more frequently at night. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your day-to-day activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself lead to more anxiety.
There are instances where tinnitus can manifest in one ear and eventually move to both. There are some instances where tinnitus is continuous day and night. In other cases, it might pulsate for a few minutes and then disappear. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
Your sleep loss could certainly be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. Here are several examples of how:
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to become stressed. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. It’s night, so you turn off everything. But when everything else is quiet, your tinnitus can be much more obvious.
- It can be difficult to ignore your tinnitus and that can be very stressful. 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 more difficult to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
When your tinnitus is caused by anxiety, you may worry that an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing noise. This can, understandably, make it very hard to sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.
Health affects 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 general wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Here are a few of the most common effects:
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will worsen if you’re not sleeping. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to affect your long-term health and wellness. You could find yourself at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Poor work performance: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t get to sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think clearly and quickly.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily activities will then be more dangerous. And it’s especially hazardous if you run heavy machinery, for example.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only source of anxiety. It’s essential to recognize what these causes are so you can try to avoid stress triggers and maybe reduce your tinnitus while you’re at it. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can cause an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded place, for example, can cause some individuals to have an anxiety response.
- Medical conditions: In some instances, 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 stresses us. If you’re being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good thing. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so great. Sometimes, it’s not so obvious what the relationship between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack today from something that caused a stress response a week ago. You may even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from a year ago, for instance.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:
- Some recreational drugs
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Lack of nutrition
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment options.
How to deal with your anxiety-caused tinnitus?
You have two general options to treat anxiety-induced tinnitus. You can either try to treat the anxiety or address the tinnitus. In either case, here’s how that may work:
In general, anxiety disorders are managed in one of two ways:
- Medication: In some cases, medication could help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic approach will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more effectively prevent anxiety attacks.
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:
- White noise machine: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms might be able to be masked by this strategy.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you are dealing with tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you produce new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and decrease your tinnitus symptoms.
You may get better sleep by addressing 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 contact us.