You first hear the sound when you’re in bed trying to sleep: a beating or maybe a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And no matter 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. And suddenly you feel really anxious, very not sleepy.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely linked. And you can understand how tinnitus and anxiety could easily conspire to produce a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a wide variety of shapes, from pulsation to throbbing to buzzing and so on. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. For many, tinnitus can happen when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
For people who experience feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings frequently interfere with their life because they have trouble managing them. This can materialize in many ways physically, that includes as tinnitus. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Certainly!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combination bad?
This combination of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:
- Normally, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your everyday activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make falling asleep a bit tricky. And that sleeplessness can itself result in more anxiety.
- Tinnitus can frequently be the first indication of a more severe anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve acknowledged the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you detect 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 disappear. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can have negative health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety impact your sleep?
So, yes, anxiety-driven tinnitus could definitely be contributing to your sleep troubles. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to become stressed out. The higher your stress level, the worse your tinnitus will tend to become.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and difficult to ignore. 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 get even louder and more difficult to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.
- Most people sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. It’s night, so you turn everything off. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can become much more obvious.
When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you might fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. This can, naturally, make it very hard to sleep. The issue is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.
Health affects of lack of sleep
The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more profound as this vicious cycle carries on. And your overall wellness can be negatively affected by this. Some of the most common impacts include the following:
- Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. This can make daily tasks such as driving a little more hazardous. And it’s especially dangerous if you operate heavy machinery, for example.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to impact your long-term health and well-being. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the consequence.
- Inferior work results: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. You won’t be as eager or be able to think clearly and quickly.
- Increased stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can result.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only source of anxiety. It’s essential to know what these causes are so you can avoid stress triggers and possibly decrease your tinnitus while you’re at it. Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something stresses us. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a tiger. But it’s not so good when you’re dealing with an assignment for work. Sometimes, the connection between the two isn’t apparent. You could have an anxiety attack now from something that caused a stress reaction last week. You might even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from a year ago, for instance.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can happen when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. Being in a crowded place, for example, can cause some people to have an anxiety response.
- Medical conditions: You may, in some cases, have an increased anxiety response due to a medical condition.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors may also trigger anxiety:
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Lack of nutrition
- Stimulant usage (including caffeine)
- Some recreational drugs
This list is not exhaustive. And if you believe you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment solutions.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-induced 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:
Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Medication: Medications may be utilized, in other circumstances, to make anxiety symptoms less prevalent.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently worsen your anxiety symptoms and this method will help you identify those thought patterns. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
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: When you’re trying to sleep, use a white noise machine. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can decrease the disruptive impact it has. CBT is a strategy that helps them do that by helping them produce new thought patterns.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This can help minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
You could get better sleep by addressing 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. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible option. Give us a call so we can help.