You’re lying down in bed attempting to sleep when you begin to notice the sound: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing 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 awake, 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 understand how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to generate a vicious cycle, one that robs you of your sleep, your rest, and can affect your health.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a little more complex than that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a wide variety of shapes, from pulsation to throbbing to ringing and so on. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. When people experience stress, for many people, tinnitus can manifest.
For people who cope with feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings often hinder their life because they have trouble controlling them. Tinnitus is just one of several ways this can physically manifest. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Definitely!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combo of tinnitus and anxiety can lead to bad news:
- Usually, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Certainly, but it’s also possible that the ringing’s been there all day and your ordinary activities were simply loud enough to mask the sound. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And that sleeplessness can itself lead to more anxiety.
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first indication of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve made this connection, any episode of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then change to the other. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. There are other situations where it comes and goes. Whether constant or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
Your sleep loss could certainly be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. Here are a few examples of how:
- Most people sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. It’s nighttime, so you turn everything off. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more noticeable.
- The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to become stressed out. As your stress level goes up your tinnitus gets worse.
- It can be hard to disregard your tinnitus and that can be very stressful. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so persistent that you lie awake until morning. 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 coming. It’s not surprising that you’re losing sleep. But lack of sleep results in all kinds of issues.
How lack of sleep impacts your health
As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health impacts of insomnia will become much more substantial. And this can really have a detrimental affect on your wellness. Some of the most common impacts include the following:
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. Driving and other daily activities will then be more hazardous. And it’s especially hazardous if you operate heavy equipment, for instance.
- Poor work results: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t get to sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be less positive.
- Increased stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related symptoms.
- Greater 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
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only source of anxiety. And recognizing these causes is essential (largely because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Stress response: When something causes us great stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a tiger. But it’s less good when you’re dealing with an assignment for work. Often, it’s not so clear what the relationship between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress response a week ago. Even a stressor from last year can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some situations, have an elevated anxiety response because of a medical condition.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can take place when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For instance, being in a can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors could also cause anxiety:
- Poor nutrition
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
- Certain recreational drugs
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
This list is not complete. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment possibilities.
How to treat your anxiety-related tinnitus?
You have two basic options to treat anxiety-related tinnitus. You can either try to treat the anxiety or address the tinnitus. In either situation, here’s how that may work:
Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are managed in one of two ways:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently worsen your anxiety symptoms and this approach will help you identify those thought patterns. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by disrupting those thought patterns.
- Medication: Medications may be utilized, 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. Some of the most common treatments include:
- White noise machine: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can minimize the disruptive effect it has. CBT is an approach that helps them do that by helping them generate 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.
Dealing with your tinnitus may help you sleep better
You’ll be in danger of falling into a vicious cycle of anxiety and tinnitus if the whooshing and ringing are keeping you up at night. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should give us a call.