You first notice the sound when you’re in bed attempting to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And once you notice that sound, 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. And all of a sudden you feel very anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely linked. And you can understand how tinnitus and anxiety could easily conspire to produce a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
Tinnitus is generally referred to 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 pulsing to throbbing to buzzing and so on. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. For many, tinnitus can happen when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction in which feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are difficult to control and strong enough to hinder your daily life. This can manifest in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Absolutely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combination bad?
This combo 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 start to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this connection, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether due 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 ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Certainly, but it’s also possible that the ringing’s been there all day and your ordinary activities were simply loud enough to cover up the sound. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
There are situations 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 might pulsate for a few minutes and then disappear. Whether constant or sporadic, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
Your sleep loss could certainly be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Here are several examples of how:
- Most people sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can become much more obvious.
- It can be hard to ignore 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 up all night. Your tinnitus can become even louder and more difficult to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level goes up your tinnitus gets worse.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. This can, naturally, make it very hard to sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, kind of makes everything worse.
How lack of sleep affects your health
As this vicious cycle keeps going, 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:
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to impact your long-term health and well-being. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
- 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 hazardous if you operate heavy machinery, for instance.
- Inferior work performance: It should come as no shock that if you can’t sleep, your job performance will suffer. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be more negative.
- Elevated stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can result.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other causes of anxiety besides tinnitus. And recognizing these causes is important (largely because they will help you prevent anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can happen when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For instance, being around crowds can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some.
- Stress response: When something causes us great stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. That’s great if you’re being chased by a tiger. But it’s less good when you’re dealing with an assignment for work. oftentimes, the association between the two is not very clear. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress reaction a week ago. You might even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from last year, for instance.
- Medical conditions: You might, in some cases, have an elevated anxiety response due to a medical condition.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors might also cause anxiety:
- Certain recreational drugs
- Stimulant usage (that includes caffeine)
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Poor nutrition
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you believe you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment options.
Dealing with anxiety-related tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two general options available. You can either try to treat the anxiety or treat the tinnitus. Here’s how that might work in either circumstance:
In general, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently worsen your anxiety symptoms and this approach will help you recognize those thought patterns. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
- Medication: Medications may be used, in other situations, 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:
- 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.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you suffer from tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you generate new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and lessen your tinnitus symptoms.
- White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this strategy.
You could get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
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. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should contact us.