You first notice the sound when you’re in bed trying to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And once you hear 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 all of a sudden you feel really anxious, not very sleepy.
Does this situation sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. 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 cause tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Firstly, many different sounds can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. 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 where feelings of dread, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are hard to control and severe enough to hinder your daily life. This can manifest in many ways physically, that includes as tinnitus. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Definitely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo 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 begin to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this connection, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether related to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
- Usually, nighttime is when most individuals 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 more difficult to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself lead to more anxiety.
There are situations where tinnitus can start in one ear and at some point move to both. There are some cases where tinnitus is continuous day and night. In other situations, it may pulsate for a few moments and then disappear. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can present some negative impacts on your health.
How does tinnitus-anxiety impact your sleep?
Your sleep loss could certainly be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. Here are a few examples of how:
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level goes up your tinnitus gets worse.
- The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and difficult to overlook. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can become even louder and more difficult to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
- Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s time for bed. But when everything else is quiet, your tinnitus can become much more obvious.
When your tinnitus is caused by anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. This can, understandably, make it very hard to sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of problems.
How lack of sleep affects your health
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more severe as this vicious cycle carries on. And your general wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Some of the most common effects include the following:
- Poor work performance: Obviously, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a good night’s sleep. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be less positive.
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. This can make daily tasks like driving a little more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to affect your long-term health and well-being. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
- Elevated stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. This can result in a vicious cycle of mental health-related problems.
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 avoid stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus at the same time. Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something causes us stress. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a lion. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so great. Often, 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. Even a stressor from a year ago can cause an anxiety attack now.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some instances, have an increased 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 attack. For instance, being in a can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors may also trigger anxiety:
- Poor nutrition
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
- Certain recreational drugs
This list is not complete. And you should seek advice from your provider if you believe you have an anxiety disorder.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
With regards to anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two basic choices available. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that might work in either case:
In general, anxiety disorders are managed in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic approach will help you identify thought patterns that can unintentionally worsen your anxiety symptoms. By interrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more effectively prevent anxiety attacks.
- Medication: In some instances, medication could help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.
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: Use a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms might be able to be masked by this strategy.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can reduce the disruptive effect it has. CBT is a strategy that helps them do that by helping them create new thought patterns.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This can help reduce how much you notice your tinnitus.
You may get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
As long as that humming 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.