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 and tuned in to your heartbeat. And once you notice that sound, you can’t tune it out. You have a lot to do tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is no good. 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 related. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and impacts your health can be the outcome.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s not as simple as that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a large number of forms, from pulsation to throbbing to buzzing and so on. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. For many, tinnitus can occur when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is definitely a thing.
For people who cope with feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings frequently interfere with their life because they have difficulty managing them. Tinnitus is just one of several ways this can physically manifest. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Absolutely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combination bad?
There are a couple of reasons why this particular combination of tinnitus and anxiety can lead to bad news:
- Most people tend to notice tinnitus more frequently at night. 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 it more difficult to get to sleep. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.
- You may be having a more severe anxiety attack if you start to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve recognized the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you experience tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
There are situations where tinnitus can start in one ear and eventually move to both. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. In other cases, it might pulsate for a few minutes and then go away. Whether constant or sporadic, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could easily be causing your sleep problems. Here are a few examples of how:
- Most individuals sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. It’s nighttime, so you turn off everything. But your tinnitus can become much more noticeable when everything is quiet.
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to get stressed. As your stress level increases your tinnitus will get worse.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to dismiss. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. As your anxiety about not sleeping increases, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can grow louder and even more difficult to tune out.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. This can, naturally, make it very difficult to sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
Health impacts of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle continues, the health affects of insomnia will become much more severe. And your general wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Here are some of the most common impacts:
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. This can make daily activities such as driving a little more dangerous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms already present will get worse if you’re not sleeping. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related issues.
- Poor work performance: Obviously, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. You won’t be as eager or be able to think clearly and quickly.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to impact your long-term health and wellness. You could find yourself at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only source of anxiety. It’s essential to know what these causes are so you can avoid stress triggers and possibly reduce your tinnitus while you’re at it. Some of the most common 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 when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so good. Often, it’s not so obvious what the relationship between the two is. Something that triggered a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. You may even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from a year ago, for example.
- Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can bring on an anxiety attack. For example, being around crowds can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some.
- Medical conditions: In some instances, you might simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to an elevated anxiety response.
Other causes: Less frequently, anxiety disorders might be caused by some of the following factors:
- Some recreational drugs
- Poor nutrition
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Stimulant usage (that includes caffeine)
This list is not exhaustive. And you should consult your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
How to deal with your anxiety-induced tinnitus?
You have two basic options to manage anxiety-related tinnitus. You can either try to treat the anxiety or address the tinnitus. In either situation, here’s how that might work:
In general, anxiety disorders are managed in one of two ways:
- Medication: Medications might be used, in other circumstances, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this method will help you identify those thought patterns. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully avoid anxiety attacks.
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:
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This can help reduce how much you notice your tinnitus.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you are dealing with tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you create new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and decrease your tinnitus symptoms.
- White noise machine: When you’re attempting to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
You could get better sleep by addressing your tinnitus
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. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible solution. Give us a call so we can help.