Hearing Health Blog

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

You’re lying down in bed attempting to sleep when you begin to notice the sound: a pulsing or maybe a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is pulsing at the same rhythm as your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you up, which is not good because you need your sleep and you’ve got a big day tomorrow. Not only are you not feeling tired, you feel anxious.

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

Can anxiety cause tinnitus?

In general, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s a bit more complex than that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a large number of forms, from pulsing to throbbing to buzzing and so on. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. When people get stressed out, for many, tinnitus can appear.

For people who experience feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings often hinder their life because they have difficulty managing them. This can manifest in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Certainly!

Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combination bad?

There are a couple of reasons why this particular combination of tinnitus and anxiety can result in bad news:

  • Normally, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety cause ringing in the ear? Sure, but it’s also possible that the ringing’s been there all day and your normal activities were simply loud enough to mask the sound. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself result in more anxiety.
  • You might be having a more severe anxiety attack if you start to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve made this association, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether related to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your general anxiety levels.

There are instances where tinnitus can manifest in one ear and eventually move to both. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. In other cases, it may pulsate for a few moments and then go away. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.

How is your sleep affected by tinnitus and anxiety?

Your sleep loss could absolutely be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. Here are a few examples of how:

  • The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to get stressed out. As your stress level rises your tinnitus gets worse.
  • The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and hard to ignore. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can get even louder and more difficult to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.
  • Most people like it to be quiet when they sleep. It’s nighttime, so you turn off everything. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more obvious.

When your anxiety is triggering your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and fear that an anxiety attack is coming. This can, obviously, make it very hard to sleep. But lack of sleep causes all kinds of problems.

How lack of sleep affects your health

The effect insomnia has on your health will continue to become more significant as this vicious cycle carries on. And this can really have a detrimental affect on your wellness. Some of the most common effects include the following:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and wellness will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. You could find yourself at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
  • Poor work performance: It should come as no shock that if you can’t sleep, your job performance will suffer. You won’t be as eager or be able to think clearly and quickly.
  • Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily activities will then be more hazardous. And it’s especially hazardous if you operate heavy machinery, for example.
  • Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.

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 maybe decrease your tinnitus while you’re at it. Here are some of the most common causes of anxiety:

  • Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can take place when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. Being in a crowded place, for example, can cause some individuals to have an anxiety response.
  • Medical conditions: You might, in some cases, have an increased anxiety response because of a medical condition.
  • Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something causes us stress. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good thing. But when you’re dealing with 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. Even a stressor from a year ago can trigger an anxiety attack now.

Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors could also trigger anxiety:

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

This list is not complete. And you should talk to your provider if you think you have an anxiety disorder.

How to fix your anxiety-related tinnitus?

When it comes to anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two general choices at hand. You can either try to treat the anxiety or address the tinnitus. In either case, here’s how that may work:

Treating anxiety

In general, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:

  • Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic strategy will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. By interrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more effectively prevent anxiety attacks.
  • Medication: In some cases, medication could help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.

Treating tinnitus

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. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this strategy.
  • Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This can help reduce how much you notice your tinnitus.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone 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 create new thought patterns.

You could get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus

As long as that thrumming or whooshing is keeping you awake at night, you’ll be in danger of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. One plan is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Give us a call so we can help.

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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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