You first hear the sound when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep: a beating or maybe a throbbing, possibly a whooshing, right in your ear. The sound is pulsing in rhythm with your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, 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 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 result.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, many different noises can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. When people experience stress, for many people, tinnitus can appear.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction in which feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are hard to control and severe enough to interfere with your daily life. Tinnitus is only one of the many ways this can physically materialize. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Certainly!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- You may be having a more serious anxiety attack if you begin to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve recognized the link between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you detect tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could increase.
- Most people tend to notice tinnitus more frequently at night. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then change to the other. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Whether constant 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. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to dismiss. 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 get louder and even harder to tune out.
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to get stressed. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. It’s night, so you turn everything off. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more obvious.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you may worry that an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing noise. It’s not surprising that you’re having trouble sleeping. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
The effect insomnia has on your health will continue to become more severe as this vicious cycle continues. And your general wellness can be negatively affected by this. Here are some of the most common impacts:
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and well-being will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily activities will then be more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Inferior work results: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t get to sleep, your job performance will become affected. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be less positive.
- 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 occur.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. And understanding these causes is essential (mainly because they will help you prevent anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most typical 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 great. But it’s not so good when you’re working on a project for work. Sometimes, the relationship between the two isn’t apparent. Something that caused a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack today. You might even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from last year, for example.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can take place when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. Being in a crowded environment, for example, can cause some people to have an anxiety attack.
- Medical conditions: In some cases, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to an increased anxiety response.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders may be caused by some of the following factors:
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Lack of nutrition
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Some recreational drugs
This list is not complete. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment solutions.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
You have two basic options to treat anxiety-related tinnitus. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be addressed. In either case, here’s how that might work:
Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently worsen your anxiety symptoms and this approach will help you identify those thought patterns. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
- Medication: Medications might be used, in other situations, to make anxiety symptoms less prevalent.
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: When you’re attempting to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. Your tinnitus symptoms might be able to be masked by this approach.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you have tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you generate new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and lessen your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear beside your ears. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
You could get better sleep by addressing your tinnitus
You’ll be at risk 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 option. Give us a call so we can help.