You first hear the sound when you’re in bed attempting to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, which is bad because you need your sleep and you have a big day tomorrow. Not only are you not feeling sleepy, you feel anxious.
Does this situation sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely linked. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and affects your health can be the outcome.
Can anxiety lead to tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, many different noises can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. For many, tinnitus can appear when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
For people who experience feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings often interfere with their life because they have trouble controlling them. Tinnitus is only one of several ways this can physically manifest. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Definitely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
There are a couple of reasons why this specific combo of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first indication of a more serious anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve made this association, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
- Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more frequently at night. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make getting to sleep a little tricky. And that sleeplessness can itself result in more anxiety.
There are instances where tinnitus can start in one ear and at some point move to both. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?
So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could definitely be contributing to your sleep problems. Some examples of how are as follows:
- 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.
- Most individuals sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. It’s nighttime, so you turn everything off. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can become much more obvious.
- It can be challenging to ignore your tinnitus and that can be extremely stressful. In the silence 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.
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. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, kind of makes everything worse.
How lack of sleep impacts your health
As this vicious cycle continues, the health affects of insomnia will grow much more substantial. And this can really have a detrimental impact on your wellness. Here are a few of the most common impacts:
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. This can make daily tasks such as 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. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Elevated stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related problems.
- Inferior work results: It should come as no shock that if you can’t sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. Your thinking will be slower and your mood will be more negative.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only source of anxiety. It’s important to recognize what these causes are so you can stay away from stress triggers and maybe decrease your tinnitus at the same time. Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. That’s great if you’re being chased by a tiger. But it’s not so good when you’re dealing with a project for work. Often, it’s not so obvious what the link 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 trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can take place when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some individuals to have an anxiety response.
- Medical conditions: You might, in some cases, have an elevated anxiety response due to a medical condition.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors may also trigger anxiety:
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Poor nutrition
- Some recreational drugs
This list is not complete. And if you believe you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment options.
How to deal with your anxiety-caused tinnitus?
When it comes to anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two general choices at hand. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be dealt with. In either situation, here’s how that might work:
There are a couple of possibilities for treating anxiety:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic approach will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
- Medication: In some cases, medication may help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less obvious.
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:
- White noise machine: Use a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms might be able to be masked by this approach.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can decrease 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 may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
You could get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
You’ll be at risk of falling into a vicious cycle of anxiety and tinnitus if the whooshing and ringing are keeping you awake at night. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible option. To do that, you should give us a call.