You’re lying down in bed trying to sleep when you first notice the sound: a beating or maybe a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, 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? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely linked. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and impacts your health can be the outcome.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complex than that. First of all, the actual sound you hear can take a large number of shapes, from pulsation to throbbing to ringing and so on. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. For many people, tinnitus can happen when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is definitely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is a condition where feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are hard to control and strong enough to interfere with your daily life. Tinnitus is only one of several ways this can physically manifest. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Definitely!
What’s bad about this combination of anxiety and tinnitus?
This combination of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- You may be having a more severe anxiety attack if you start to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this association, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether caused by anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
- Most people tend to notice tinnitus more frequently at night. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing might 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 more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then move to the other. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety impact your sleep?
So, yeah, anxiety-driven tinnitus could definitely be contributing to your sleep problems. Here are a few examples of how:
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to get stressed. As your stress level rises your tinnitus will get worse.
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. It’s nighttime, so you turn everything off. But your tinnitus can be much more obvious when everything is quiet.
- The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and hard to dismiss. If you’re laying there just attempting to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you up all night. Your tinnitus can get even louder and harder to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you might fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing noise. This can, naturally, make it very difficult to sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
Health affects of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health affects of insomnia will grow much more significant. And this can really have a negative impact on your wellness. Here are a few of the most common impacts:
- Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. This can result in a vicious cycle of mental health-related problems.
- Inferior work results: It should come as no shock that if you can’t sleep, your job performance will suffer. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think clearly and quickly.
- Greater 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: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily activities will then be more dangerous. And it’s particularly hazardous if you operate heavy equipment, for example.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other causes of anxiety besides tinnitus. And understanding these causes is important (mostly because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can cause an anxiety attack. Being in a crowded place, for example, 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 prone to an elevated anxiety response.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something stresses us. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s great. But it’s less good when you’re working on a project for work. Sometimes, it’s not so clear what the relationship between the two is. Something that triggered a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. You might even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from a year ago, for example.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors could also cause anxiety:
- Lack of nutrition
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Some recreational drugs
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
This list is not exhaustive. And you should seek advice from your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
How to deal with your anxiety-caused tinnitus?
With regards to anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two basic options available. You can either try to treat the anxiety or treat the tinnitus. In either case, here’s how that may work:
There are a couple of options for treating anxiety:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic strategy will help you identify thought patterns that can unintentionally worsen your anxiety symptoms. By interrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully prevent anxiety attacks.
- Medication: In some cases, medication may help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.
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. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can reduce the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a method that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This might help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
You could get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
As long as that humming 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. One plan is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should contact us.