You first hear the sound when you’re in bed trying to sleep: a pulsing or maybe a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And once you notice that sound, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, which is not good because you need your sleep and you have a big day tomorrow. Not only are you not feeling tired, you feel anxious.
Does this sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. 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 affect your health.
Can anxiety trigger tinnitus?
Generally, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complicated than 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. Basically, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. For many, tinnitus can manifest when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is definitely 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. Tinnitus is only one of the many ways this can physically materialize. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Absolutely!
What’s bad about this combination of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this particular combination of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve acknowledged the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you experience tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could increase.
- Most individuals tend to experience tinnitus more often at night. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Sure, but it’s also possible that the ringing’s been there all day and your usual activities were simply loud enough to cover up the sound. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then move to the other. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. In other situations, it may 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 contributing to your sleep issues. Some examples of how are as follows:
- The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and difficult to overlook. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can become even louder and more difficult to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
- Most individuals sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. It’s night, so you turn off everything. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more obvious.
- 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.
When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and fear that an anxiety attack is coming. It’s no wonder that you’re losing sleep. But lack of sleep results in all kinds of problems.
Health affects of lack of sleep
The effect insomnia has on your health will continue to become more severe as this vicious cycle continues. And this can really have a detrimental impact on your wellness. Here are some of the most common impacts:
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and well-being will be affected over time by lack of sleep. You could find yourself at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily tasks will then be more dangerous. And it’s particularly dangerous if you run heavy machinery, for example.
- Inferior work results: It should come as no shock that if you can’t sleep, your job performance will suffer. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think clearly and quickly.
- Elevated stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will get worse if you’re not sleeping. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related symptoms.
Other causes of anxiety
Of course, there are other causes of anxiety besides tinnitus. And understanding these causes is important (largely because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something stresses us. 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 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 cause an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can result in an anxiety attack. For example, being around crowds can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some.
- Medical conditions: You might, in some cases, have an increased anxiety response because of a medical condition.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors could also trigger anxiety:
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Some recreational drugs
- Lack of nutrition
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment solutions.
Dealing with anxiety-induced tinnitus
You have two basic choices to manage anxiety-related tinnitus. 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 options for managing anxiety:
- 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 might be used, in other situations, 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. Here are some common treatments:
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This might help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
- White noise machine: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re attempting 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 reduce the disruptive effect it has. CBT is an approach that helps them do that by helping them generate new thought patterns.
Dealing with your tinnitus could help you sleep better
As long as that thrumming or whooshing is keeping you up at night, you’ll be in danger of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. Managing your tinnitus first is one possible solution. To do that, you should give us a call.