You first notice the sound when you’re lying in bed attempting to sleep: 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 not good 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? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely linked. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety could easily conspire to produce a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a little more complex than that. Firstly, lots of different sounds can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. For many people, tinnitus can occur when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is definitely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction where feelings of dread, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are difficult to control and intense enough to hinder your daily life. This can materialize in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? 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:
- Usually, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Certainly, but it’s also feasible that the ringing’s been there all day and your ordinary activities were simply loud enough to cover up the sound. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that sleeplessness can itself cause more anxiety.
- You might be having a more severe anxiety attack if you begin to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this connection, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether related to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
There are situations where tinnitus can manifest in one ear and at some point move to both. There are some cases where tinnitus is constant day and night. In other cases, it might pulsate for a few minutes and then go away. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
Your sleep loss could absolutely be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Here are a few examples of how:
- It can be hard to disregard your tinnitus and that can be really stressful. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so persistent that you lie awake until morning. As your anxiety about not sleeping grows, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can grow louder and even harder to tune out.
- 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 noticeable when everything is quiet.
- Your stress level will keep rising the longer you go without sleep. The more stressed you are, the worse your tinnitus will be.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you might worry that an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. It’s not surprising that you’re losing sleep. But lack of sleep results in all kinds of problems.
How lack of sleep affects your health
The effect insomnia has on your health will continue to become more severe as this vicious cycle continues. And this can really have a detrimental impact on your wellness. Here are some of the most common effects:
- Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. This can make daily tasks like driving a little more dangerous. And it’s especially hazardous if you run heavy machinery, for instance.
- Poor work performance: Obviously, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be more negative.
- Elevated stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will worsen if you don’t sleep. This can lead to a vicious cycle of mental health-related issues.
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to affect your long-term health and well-being. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other causes of anxiety besides tinnitus. And knowing 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 common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Medical conditions: In some cases, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to an increased anxiety response.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can take place when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For example, being around crowds can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a natural anxiety response when something causes us stress. If you’re being chased by a wild animal, that’s great. But it’s not so good when you’re dealing with a project for work. Sometimes, the relationship between the two is not obvious. You could have an anxiety attack today from something that caused a stress reaction a week ago. You may even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from last year, for instance.
Other causes: Less frequently, anxiety disorders may be caused by some of the following factors:
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Certain recreational drugs
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Lack of nutrition
This list is not complete. And you should consult your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
You have two general options to treat anxiety-induced tinnitus. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be dealt with. In either case, here’s how that might work:
There are a couple of possibilities for treating anxiety:
- Medication: In some instances, medication may help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less obvious.
- 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 effectively avoid 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:
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This can help reduce how much you notice your tinnitus.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can decrease the disruptive effect it has. CBT is a method that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
- White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
You may get better sleep by dealing with 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 awake at night. Dealing with your tinnitus first is one possible solution. Contact us so we can help.