You’re lying down in bed trying to sleep when you first hear the sound: a beating or perhaps a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And once you notice that sound, you can’t tune it out. You have a big day tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is not good. And all of a sudden you feel very anxious, not very sleepy.
Does this sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. 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 affect your health.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a bit more complex than that. Firstly, lots of different noises can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. For many, tinnitus can appear when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
For individuals who cope with feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings often interfere with their life because they have difficulty managing them. Tinnitus is only one of the many ways this can physically manifest. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Definitely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve made this connection, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether caused by anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
- Usually, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your everyday activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then change to the other. There are some cases where tinnitus is continuous day and night. In other situations, it may pulsate for a few moments and then go away. Whether constant or intermittent, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could easily be contributing to your sleep problems. Here are a few examples of how:
- Your stress level will keep rising the longer you go without sleep. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
- Most people sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. You turn everything off because it’s time for bed. But your tinnitus can be much more obvious when everything is silent.
- It can be difficult to disregard your tinnitus and that can be extremely stressful. If you’re laying there just trying to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you up all night. As your anxiety about not sleeping grows, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can grow louder and even harder to ignore.
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 problems.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health affects of insomnia will grow much more substantial. And your general wellness can be negatively affected by this. Here are some of the most common impacts:
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to affect your long-term health and well-being. You could find yourself at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. Driving and other daily tasks will then be more dangerous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Poor work performance: It should come as no shock that if you can’t sleep, your job performance will become affected. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms already present will get worse if you don’t sleep. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can occur.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only source of anxiety. It’s essential to recognize what these causes are so you can try to avoid stress triggers and possibly decrease your tinnitus while you’re at it. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Medical conditions: You might, in some cases, have an elevated anxiety response because of a medical condition.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a natural anxiety response when something stresses us. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good thing. But it’s less good when you’re working on an assignment for work. Sometimes, the association between the two is not very clear. Something that triggered a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. You might even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from a year ago, for example.
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can result in an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety attack.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders may be caused by some of the following factors:
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Poor nutrition
- Stimulant usage (that includes caffeine)
- Some recreational drugs
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should talk to your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two general choices available. You can either try to address the anxiety or address the tinnitus. In either situation, here’s how that may work:
In general, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic method will help you identify thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by disrupting those thought patterns.
- Medication: Medications might be utilized, in other circumstances, 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: Use a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you have tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you generate new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and reduce your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
Addressing your tinnitus could help you sleep better
As long as that thrumming or whooshing is keeping you awake at night, you’ll be at risk of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. Dealing with your tinnitus first is one possible option. To do that, you should give us a call.