You first hear the sound when you’re in bed trying to sleep: a beating or perhaps a throbbing, possibly a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is pulsing at the same rhythm as your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you up, which is not good because you need your sleep and you’ve got a big day tomorrow. Not only are you not feeling sleepy, you feel anxious.
Does this seem 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 result.
Can anxiety lead to tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a little more complex than that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a large number of forms, from pulsing to throbbing to ringing and so on. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. When people experience stress, for many people, tinnitus can appear.
An anxiety disorder is a condition where feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are hard to control and severe enough to interfere with your daily life. Tinnitus is only one of several ways this can physically manifest. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Definitely!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
This combination of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more often at night. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your everyday activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve made this connection, any episode of tinnitus (whether related to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
There are situations where tinnitus can manifest in one ear and eventually move to both. There are some instances where tinnitus is constant day and night. There are other situations where it comes and goes. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
Your sleep loss could absolutely be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. 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. As your anxiety about not sleeping grows, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can grow louder and even more difficult to tune out.
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But your tinnitus can be much more noticeable when everything is silent.
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to become stressed out. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will be.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. It’s not surprising that you’re losing sleep. But lack of sleep causes all kinds of issues.
How lack of sleep impacts your health
As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health affects of insomnia will grow much more severe. And this can really have a detrimental affect on your wellness. Some of the most common impacts include the following:
- Inferior work performance: It should come as no shock that if you can’t sleep, your job performance will become affected. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be more negative.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily tasks will then be more hazardous. And it’s especially dangerous if you run heavy machinery, for instance.
- Elevated stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to impact your long-term health and well-being. You could find yourself at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. And understanding these causes is important (mostly because they will help you prevent anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- 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 example, can cause some individuals to have an anxiety attack.
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a lion. But it’s less good when you’re working on a project for work. Sometimes, the connection between the two isn’t apparent. Something that triggered a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack today. Even a stressor from last year can cause an anxiety attack now.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some instances, have an elevated anxiety response due to a medical condition.
Other causes: Less commonly, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:
- Poor nutrition
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
- Some recreational drugs
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
This list is not complete. And you should seek advice from your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-related tinnitus
You have two general options to treat anxiety-related tinnitus. You can either try to address the anxiety or address the tinnitus. In either case, here’s how that may work:
In general, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Medication: In some cases, medication could help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic approach will help you identify thought patterns that can unintentionally worsen your anxiety symptoms. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by disrupting those thought patterns.
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: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear beside your ears. This might help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you are dealing with tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you produce new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and decrease your tinnitus symptoms.
- White noise machine: When you’re attempting to sleep, use a white noise machine. Your tinnitus symptoms might be able to be masked by this strategy.
Dealing with your tinnitus could help you sleep better
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 contact us.