You’re lying down in bed attempting to sleep when you first notice the sound: a beating or maybe a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of 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. It keeps you up, which is not good because you need your sleep and you have a big day tomorrow. Not only are you not feeling sleepy, you feel anxious.
Does this sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely related. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to produce a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not as simple as that. First of all, the actual sound you hear can take a wide variety of shapes, from pulsing to throbbing to ringing and so on. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that isn’t really there. When people get stressed out, for many, 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 the many ways this can physically materialize. So can tinnitus be caused by anxiety? Certainly!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this particular combo of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first sign of a more serious anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve recognized the link between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you notice tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
- Normally, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make getting to sleep a bit tricky. And that insomnia can itself result in more anxiety.
There are situations where tinnitus can start in one ear and eventually move to both. There are some instances where tinnitus is constant day and night. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Whether constant or intermittent, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yeah, anxiety-driven tinnitus could easily be causing your sleep troubles. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to dismiss. If you’re laying there just attempting to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you up all night. Your tinnitus can become even louder and harder to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleeping. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
- Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. It’s night, so you turn everything off. But your tinnitus can become much more obvious when everything is silent.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing noise. This can, understandably, make it very hard to sleep. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, kind of makes everything worse.
How lack of sleep affects your health
As this vicious cycle continues, the health impacts of insomnia will become much more severe. And this can really have a negative impact on your wellness. Here are a few of the most common effects:
- Elevated stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will get worse if you don’t sleep. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related symptoms.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. This can make daily tasks such as driving a little more dangerous. And it’s especially dangerous if you run heavy machinery, for example.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and well-being will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the result.
- Inferior work performance: Clearly, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a good night’s sleep. You won’t be as eager or be able to think clearly and quickly.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. And knowing these causes is important (mainly because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Medical conditions: In some situations, you might simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to a heightened anxiety response.
- Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s great if you’re being chased by a lion. But it’s not so good when you’re dealing with a project for work. Sometimes, it’s not so clear what the relationship between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack today from something that caused a stress reaction last week. Even a stressor from last year can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can result in an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety attack.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors could also trigger anxiety:
- Certain recreational drugs
- Lack of nutrition
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Stimulant usage (that includes caffeine)
This list is not exhaustive. And if you believe you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment solutions.
Treating anxiety-related tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two basic choices available. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be dealt with. In either situation, here’s how that might work:
There are a couple of options for managing anxiety:
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this strategy will help you identify those thought patterns. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
- Medication: In some cases, medication could 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:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can acknowledge and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can reduce the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a strategy that helps them do that by helping them produce new thought patterns.
- White noise machine: Use a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This can help minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
You could get better sleep by addressing 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 solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should give us a call.