You first notice the sound when you’re in bed attempting to sleep: a pulsing or maybe a throbbing, possibly a whooshing, right in 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 lot to do tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is not good. Not only are you not feeling tired, 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 generate a vicious cycle, one that robs you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, many different sounds can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. Basically, you’re hearing a sound that isn’t really there. For many, tinnitus can occur when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is definitely a thing.
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. Tinnitus is just one of the many ways this can physically manifest. So can tinnitus be caused by anxiety? Certainly!
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 might be having a more serious anxiety attack if you begin to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this association, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether related to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
- Normally, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? 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 more difficult to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself result in more anxiety.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then move to the other. There are some instances where tinnitus is continuous day and night. In other situations, it might pulsate for a few moments and then disappear. Whether constant or intermittent, 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 issues. Here are several examples of how:
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. It’s nighttime, so you turn everything off. But your tinnitus can become much more obvious when everything is silent.
- Your stress level will keep rising the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level increases your tinnitus will get worse.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and difficult to overlook. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. As your anxiety about not sleeping increases, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can get louder and even harder to ignore.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you might fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. This can, naturally, make it very hard to sleep. But lack of sleep causes all kinds of issues.
Health affects of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health impacts of insomnia will become much more severe. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Some of the most common effects include the following:
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will get worse if you don’t sleep. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. This can make daily activities like driving a little more hazardous. And it’s especially hazardous if you run heavy equipment, for instance.
- Poor work results: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. Your thinking will be slower and your mood will be less positive.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and wellness will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. And knowing these causes is important (mainly because they will help you avoid 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:
- Medical conditions: You might, in some instances, have a heightened anxiety response due to a medical condition.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something stresses us. That’s great if you’re being chased by a lion. But it’s not so good when you’re dealing with an assignment for work. Sometimes, the connection between the two isn’t very clear. Something that caused a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack today. Even a stressor from a year ago can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can take place when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For instance, being around crowds can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some people.
Other causes: Less frequently, anxiety disorders may be caused by some of the following factors:
- Certain recreational drugs
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Poor nutrition
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should seek advice from your provider if you believe you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
When it comes to anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two basic options at hand. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that might work in either case:
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): This therapeutic approach will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Some of the most common treatments include:
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This might help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can minimize the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a strategy that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
- White noise machine: Use a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
Addressing your tinnitus may help you sleep better
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. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible solution. Give us a call so we can help.