You’re lying in bed attempting to sleep when you begin to notice the sound: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to 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 tired, you feel anxious.
Does this sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely related. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to generate a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can anxiety lead to tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a little more complex than that. Firstly, lots of different sounds can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. For many people, tinnitus can appear when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction where feelings of dread, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are difficult to control and strong enough to hinder your daily life. This can manifest in many ways physically, that includes as tinnitus. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Definitely!
What’s bad about this combination of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combo of tinnitus and anxiety can lead to bad news:
- You might be having a more severe anxiety attack if you start to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this connection, any episode of tinnitus (whether caused by anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
- Normally, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your day-to-day activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then change to the other. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. There are other situations where it comes and goes. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combination can have negative health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety impact your sleep?
So, yes, anxiety-driven tinnitus could definitely be contributing to your sleep troubles. Here are several examples of how:
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But when everything else is quiet, your tinnitus can become much more noticeable.
- It can be hard to disregard your tinnitus and that can be very stressful. If you’re laying there just attempting to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you awake all night. As your anxiety about not sleeping increases, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can get louder and even more difficult to tune out.
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleeping. As your stress level rises your tinnitus gets worse.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you might worry that 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 leads to all kinds of problems.
How lack of sleep impacts your health
As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health impacts of insomnia will become much more significant. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Some of the most common impacts include the following:
- Slower reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. This can make daily activities such as driving a little more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related symptoms.
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to impact your long-term health and wellness. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Poor work performance: Clearly, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a good night’s sleep. You won’t be as eager or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only cause of anxiety. It’s important to know what these causes are so you can stay away from stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus at the same time. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- 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 dealing with a project for work. Sometimes, it’s not so obvious what the relationship between the two is. Something that caused a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack today. You might even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from last year, for instance.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can happen when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For instance, being around crowds can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some people.
- Medical conditions: In some instances, you might simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to an elevated anxiety response.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors might also trigger anxiety:
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Lack of nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should seek advice from your provider if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder.
How to deal with your anxiety-induced tinnitus?
When it comes to anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two basic options available. You can either try to address the anxiety or address the tinnitus. Here’s how that may work in either circumstance:
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 situations, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.
Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Here are some common treatments:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can decrease 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 could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear beside your ears. 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. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible solution. To do that, you should give us a call.