You first notice the sound when you’re in bed attempting to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing in it. The sound is pulsing at the same rhythm as your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you up, 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. A vicious cycle that deprives you of your sleep and affects your health can be the result.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not as simple as that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a wide variety of shapes, from pulsing to throbbing to buzzing and so on. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. When people experience stress, for many, tinnitus can appear.
An anxiety disorder is a condition in which 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 tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Certainly!
What’s bad about this combination of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combo of tinnitus and anxiety can lead to bad news:
- 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 related to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
- Most individuals tend to experience tinnitus more often at night. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Sure, but it’s also feasible that the ringing’s been there all day and your ordinary activities were simply loud enough to mask the sound. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself result in more anxiety.
There are situations where tinnitus can start in one ear and at some point move to both. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. In other cases, it may pulsate for a few minutes and then go away. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can present some negative impacts on your health.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yeah, anxiety-driven tinnitus could definitely be causing your sleep troubles. Here are a few examples of how:
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleeping. As your stress level increases your tinnitus gets worse.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to ignore. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can get even louder and harder to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- Most individuals sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. You turn everything off because it’s time for bed. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more noticeable.
When your anxiety is contributing to your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and fear that an anxiety attack is near. It’s no wonder that you’re losing sleep. But lack of sleep causes all kinds of problems.
How lack of sleep impacts your health
As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health affects of insomnia will become much more substantial. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Here are a few of the most common impacts:
- Elevated stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will get worse if you’re not sleeping. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to impact 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 sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be less positive.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily tasks will then be more dangerous. And it’s especially dangerous if you operate heavy equipment, for instance.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only source of anxiety. And recognizing these causes is important (largely because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). 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 bring on an anxiety attack. Being in a crowded environment, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety response.
- Medical conditions: In some situations, you might simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to an increased anxiety response.
- 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 lion. 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. Something that caused a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. You may even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from last year, for example.
Other factors: Less commonly, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:
- Lack of nutrition
- Some recreational drugs
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
This list is not complete. And you should talk to your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
How to deal with your anxiety-related tinnitus?
You have two basic choices to treat anxiety-related tinnitus. You can either try to address the anxiety or address the tinnitus. Here’s how that may work in either circumstance:
In general, anxiety disorders are managed in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this approach will help you identify those thought patterns. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
- Medication: Medications might be utilized, 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:
- White noise machine: Use a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- 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 strategy that helps them do that by helping them create new thought patterns.
You may get better sleep by addressing your tinnitus
As long as that thrumming 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.