You’re lying in bed attempting to sleep when you begin to hear the sound: a pulsing or maybe a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, right in your ear. The sound is beating at the same rhythm as your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, you can’t tune it out. You have a lot to do tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is bad. Not only are you not feeling tired, you feel anxious.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely linked. A vicious cycle that deprives you of your sleep and affects your health can be the result.
Can anxiety trigger tinnitus?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Firstly, lots of different noises can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. Basically, you’re hearing a sound that isn’t really there. When people experience stress, for many, tinnitus can manifest.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction where feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are hard to control and intense enough to interfere with your daily life. This can materialize in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Absolutely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
This combo of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Usually, nighttime is when most people really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Certainly, but it’s also possible 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 more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first sign of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve acknowledged the link between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you experience tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could increase.
There are situations where tinnitus can manifest in one ear and at some point move to both. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. There are other situations where it comes and goes. Whether constant or intermittent, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yes, anxiety-related tinnitus could definitely be causing your sleep problems. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and difficult to ignore. 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 harder to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s time for bed. But your tinnitus can be much more obvious when everything is quiet.
- The level of your stress will continue to rise the longer you go without sleeping. As your stress level goes up your tinnitus will get worse.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you might fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. It’s no wonder that you’re having trouble sleeping. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.
Health affects of lack of sleep
The effect insomnia has on your health will continue to become more significant as this vicious cycle continues. And this can really have a detrimental impact on your wellness. Some of the most prevalent impacts include the following:
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. This can make daily activities such as driving a little more dangerous. And it’s particularly dangerous if you operate heavy machinery, for instance.
- Inferior work performance: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t get to sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. Your thinking will be slower and your mood will be less positive.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to affect your long-term health and wellness. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
- Increased stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. This can lead to a vicious cycle of mental health-related symptoms.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other causes of anxiety besides tinnitus. It’s important to recognize what these causes are so you can stay away from stress triggers and maybe reduce your tinnitus at the same time. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can take place when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety response.
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. If you’re being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good thing. But it’s not so good when you’re working on an assignment for work. 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 tomorrow. You may even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from a year ago, for instance.
- Medical conditions: In some cases, you might simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to a heightened anxiety response.
Other factors: Less frequently, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:
- Stimulant usage (that includes caffeine)
- Poor nutrition
- Certain recreational drugs
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And you should consult your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-related tinnitus
You have two basic choices to treat anxiety-induced tinnitus. You can either try to address the anxiety or treat the tinnitus. In either situation, here’s how that may work:
There are a couple of possibilities for treating anxiety:
- Medication: In some cases, medication could help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less obvious.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic strategy will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally worsen your anxiety symptoms. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully prevent anxiety attacks.
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:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can reduce the disruptive effect it has. CBT is an approach that helps them do that by helping them produce new thought patterns.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear beside your ears. This might help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- White noise machine: When you’re attempting to sleep, use a white noise machine. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
You could get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
As long as that thrumming or whooshing is keeping you up at night, you’ll be at risk of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. One plan is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Give us a call so we can help.