You’re lying in bed attempting to sleep when you first hear the sound: a pulsing or perhaps a throbbing, possibly a whooshing, right in your ear. The sound is beating in rhythm with your heartbeat. And once you notice that sound, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you up, which is bad because you need your sleep and you’ve got a big day tomorrow. And suddenly you feel really anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely related. A vicious cycle that deprives you of your sleep and impacts your health can be the outcome.
Can anxiety trigger tinnitus?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complex than that. Firstly, lots of different noises can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. Basically, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. For many, tinnitus can manifest 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 severe enough to hinder your daily life. This can materialize in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Absolutely!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combination of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- Usually, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Certainly, but it’s also feasible that the ringing’s been there all day and your usual activities were simply loud enough to cover up the sound. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself result in more anxiety.
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first sign of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve recognized the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you detect tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
There are instances where tinnitus can start in one ear and eventually move to both. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. In other situations, it might pulsate for a few moments and then disappear. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yes, anxiety-driven tinnitus could easily be causing your sleep issues. Some examples of how are as follows:
- Most individuals sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But your tinnitus can become much more noticeable when everything is silent.
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to become stressed out. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will be.
- The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and hard to overlook. If you’re laying there just trying to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you awake all night. As your anxiety about not sleeping grows, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can grow louder and even harder to ignore.
When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and fear that an anxiety attack is near. It’s not surprising that you’re losing sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.
How lack of sleep impacts your health
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. Some of the most prevalent impacts include the following:
- Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily tasks will then be 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 you already have even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can result.
- Inferior work results: 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.
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and well-being will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. Increased danger of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only source of anxiety. And recognizing these causes is essential (mostly because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Medical conditions: You may, in some instances, have an elevated anxiety response because of a medical condition.
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can result in an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety attack.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something stresses us. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s great. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so good. oftentimes, the connection between the two isn’t obvious. You could have an anxiety attack today from something that caused a stress reaction last week. You may even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from last year, for instance.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders might be caused by some of the following factors:
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
- Some recreational drugs
- Lack of nutrition
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
This list is not exhaustive. And if you believe you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment options.
How to fix your anxiety-caused tinnitus?
With regards to anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two general choices at hand. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that may work in either case:
There are a couple of options for treating anxiety:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic method will help you identify thought patterns that can unintentionally worsen your anxiety symptoms. By interrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully avoid anxiety attacks.
- Medication: Medications might be used, in other circumstances, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.
There are a variety of ways to treat tinnitus and this is especially true if symptoms manifest primarily at night. Here are some common treatments:
- White noise machine: When you’re attempting to sleep, use a white noise machine. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can decrease the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a method that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
- 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.
You could get better sleep by addressing your tinnitus
As long as that humming 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. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should give us a call.