You’re lying down in bed trying to sleep when you first hear the sound: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing in it. The sound is beating at the same rhythm as your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, which is not good because you need your sleep and you have a big day tomorrow. And suddenly you feel very anxious, not very sleepy.
Does this situation 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 create a vicious cycle, one that robs you of your sleep, your rest, and can affect your health.
Can anxiety lead to tinnitus?
Tinnitus is generally referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a little more complex than that. Firstly, many different noises can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. When people get stressed out, for many people, tinnitus can manifest.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction in which feelings of dread, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are hard to control and severe enough to interfere with your daily life. This can manifest in many ways physically, that includes as tinnitus. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Absolutely!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combo of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first indication of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). 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.
- Most individuals tend to experience tinnitus more frequently at night. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Sure, but it’s also feasible that the ringing’s been there all day and your usual activities were simply loud enough to mask the sound. This can make getting to sleep a bit tricky. And that sleeplessness can itself lead to more anxiety.
There are instances where tinnitus can start in one ear and at some point move to both. There are some cases where tinnitus is constant day and night. In other situations, it may pulsate for a few moments and then disappear. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combination can have negative health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yes, anxiety-related tinnitus could definitely be contributing to your sleep problems. Here are several examples of how:
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to overlook. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can get even louder and more difficult to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- Most people sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can become much more noticeable.
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to get stressed out. The more stressed you are, the worse your tinnitus will be.
When your anxiety is contributing to your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and fear that an anxiety attack is coming. It’s not surprising that you’re having trouble sleeping. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of problems.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more significant as this vicious cycle continues. And your general wellness can be negatively affected by this. Here are a few of the most common effects:
- Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily activities will then be more hazardous. And it’s especially dangerous if you run heavy machinery, for example.
- 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.
- Inferior work performance: Obviously, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
- Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can result.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. It’s essential to know what these causes are so you can stay away from stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus while you’re at it. Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a natural anxiety response when something causes us stress. That’s great if you’re being chased by a tiger. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so good. Often, 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 today. Even a stressor from last year can cause an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can cause an anxiety attack. Being in a crowded environment, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety attack.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some instances, have a heightened anxiety response because of a medical condition.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors could also trigger anxiety:
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Stimulant usage (that includes caffeine)
- Poor nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
This list is not exhaustive. And if you believe you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment possibilities.
Treating anxiety-related tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two basic choices at hand. You can either try to address the anxiety or address the tinnitus. Here’s how that may work in either case:
Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are managed in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently worsen your anxiety symptoms and this strategy will help you recognize those thought patterns. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully prevent anxiety attacks.
- Medication: In some instances, medication could help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less obvious.
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: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- White noise machine: Use a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this strategy.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you suffer from tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you create new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and minimize your tinnitus symptoms.
Addressing your tinnitus could 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 up at night. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Give us a call so we can help.