You’re lying down in bed trying to sleep when you first notice the sound: a pulsing or maybe a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, right in your ear. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. You have a lot to do tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is no good. Not only are you not feeling sleepy, you feel anxious.
Does this seem familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely related. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and impacts your health can be the outcome.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
Tinnitus is generally 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 forms, from pulsation to throbbing to ringing and so on. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that isn’t really there. For many people, tinnitus can appear 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 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 several ways this can physically materialize. So can tinnitus be caused by anxiety? Definitely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combination bad?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Normally, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your day-to-day activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve recognized the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you notice tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then move to the other. There are some cases where tinnitus is constant day and night. In other situations, it might pulsate for a few minutes and then disappear. Whether continuous or intermittent, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety impact your sleep?
So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could definitely be causing your sleep troubles. Some examples of how are as follows:
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s time for bed. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can become much more noticeable.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to ignore. In the quiet 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 more difficult to tune out.
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to get stressed out. As your stress level goes up your tinnitus will get worse.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you might fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing noise. It’s not surprising that you’re losing sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
How lack of sleep impacts your health
The effect insomnia has on your health will continue to become more severe as this vicious cycle continues. And your overall wellness can be negatively affected by this. Here are a few of the most common effects:
- Increased 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.
- Elevated stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms already present will worsen if you’re not sleeping. This can result in a vicious cycle of mental health-related symptoms.
- Poor work performance: Obviously, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be less positive.
- Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily activities will then be more hazardous. And it’s particularly dangerous if you operate heavy machinery, for example.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only cause of anxiety. It’s important to recognize what these causes are so you can try to avoid stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus while you’re at it. Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can result in an anxiety attack. Being in a crowded place, for example, can cause some people to have an anxiety response.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something stresses us. If you’re being chased by a wild animal, that’s great. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so great. oftentimes, the relationship between the two isn’t very clear. Something that triggered a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. Even a stressor from last year can cause an anxiety attack now.
- 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 frequently, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:
- Poor nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- 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 suspect you have an anxiety disorder.
Dealing with anxiety-induced tinnitus
When it comes to anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two general options at hand. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be dealt with. Here’s how that may work in either case:
Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this strategy will help you identify those thought patterns. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more effectively avoid anxiety attacks.
- Medication: Medications may be utilized, in other circumstances, to make anxiety symptoms less prevalent.
Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Here are some common treatments:
- White noise machine: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms might be able to be masked by this approach.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you are dealing with tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you produce new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and lessen your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This can help minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
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 up at night. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Contact us so we can help.