Are my Sleep Problems and my Tinnitus Caused by Anxiety?

Woman can't sleep at night because she's suffering from tinnitus and anxiety

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 in tune with your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. You have a lot to do tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is bad. And suddenly you feel really anxious, very not sleepy.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and impacts your health can be the result.

Can anxiety cause tinnitus?

In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s not that simple. First of all, the actual noise 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 experience stress, for many, tinnitus can appear.

For individuals who experience 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 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 lead to bad news:

  • Tinnitus can frequently be the first sign of a more serious anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve made this connection, any episode of tinnitus (whether caused by anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.
  • Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more often at night. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Certainly, but it’s also feasible that the ringing’s been there all day and your normal activities were simply loud enough to cover up the sound. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself cause more anxiety.

Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then move to the other. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. In other situations, it might pulsate for a few minutes and then go away. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can have negative health consequences.

How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?

Your sleep loss could certainly be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Here are a few examples of how:

  • The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and difficult to ignore. If you’re laying there just trying to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you awake all night. Your tinnitus can get even louder and harder to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
  • Your stress level will keep rising 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 quiet.

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, understandably, make it very hard to sleep. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.

Health impacts of lack of sleep

The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more significant as this vicious cycle carries on. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Here are a few of the most common impacts:

  • Elevated stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
  • Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and wellness will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. Increased danger of a stroke or heart disease can be the consequence.
  • Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily tasks will then be more hazardous. And it’s particularly hazardous if you operate heavy equipment, for example.
  • Poor work performance: Obviously, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be less positive.

Other causes of anxiety

Tinnitus, of course, is not the only cause of anxiety. It’s essential to recognize what these causes are so you can avoid stress triggers and possibly reduce your tinnitus at the same time. Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:

  • Stress response: When something causes us great stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a lion. But it’s not so good when you’re working on a project for work. 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 might even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from last year, for instance.
  • Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can take place when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For instance, being around crowds can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some people.
  • Medical conditions: You might, in some situations, have an increased anxiety response because of a medical condition.

Other causes: Less frequently, anxiety disorders could be caused by some of the following factors:

  • Some recreational drugs
  • Stimulant usage (that includes caffeine)
  • Lack of nutrition
  • Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)

This list is not complete. And you should consult your provider if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder.

Dealing with anxiety-related tinnitus

You have two general choices to treat anxiety-related tinnitus. The anxiety can be dealt with or the tinnitus can be addressed. Here’s how that might work in either circumstance:

Addressing anxiety

There are a couple of possibilities for treating anxiety:

  • Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this approach will help you recognize those thought patterns. Patients are able to better prevent anxiety attacks by interrupting those thought patterns.
  • Medication: Medications might be utilized, in other situations, to make anxiety symptoms less prominent.

Treating tinnitus

Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. 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: When you’re attempting to sleep, use a white noise machine. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you suffer from tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you generate new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and minimize your tinnitus symptoms.

You may get better sleep by dealing with 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 awake at night. Dealing with your tinnitus first is one possible solution. To do that, you should contact us.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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