Hearing Health Blog

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

You’re lying in bed trying to sleep when you first notice the sound: a pulsing or maybe a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, right in your ear. The sound is pulsing in rhythm 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 very 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 create a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can impact your health.

Can tinnitus be caused by anxiety?

Generally, ringing in the ears is the definition of tinnitus. But it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, many different noises can manifest from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that doesn’t really exist. When people get stressed out, for many, tinnitus can appear.

An anxiety disorder is a condition in which feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name implies) anxiety are difficult to control and strong enough to hinder your daily life. This can manifest in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Definitely!

What’s bad about this combination of anxiety and tinnitus?

This combination of anxiety and tinnitus is bad news for a couple of the following reasons:

  • Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more often at night. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Certainly, 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 getting to sleep a bit tricky. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
  • Tinnitus can often be the first indication of a more serious anxiety attack (or similar episode). Once you’ve made this connection, any episode of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.

Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then move to the other. There are some instances where tinnitus is continuous day and night. In other cases, it may pulsate for a few minutes and then go away. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can have negative health consequences.

How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?

So, yes, anxiety-driven tinnitus could easily be contributing to your sleep troubles. Here are several examples of how:

  • Most people sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But when everything else is quiet, your tinnitus can be much more noticeable.
  • The longer you go without sleep, the easier it is for you to become stressed. As your stress level rises your tinnitus gets worse.
  • The sound of your tinnitus can stress you out and difficult to overlook. 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 become even louder and more difficult to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.

When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. It’s no wonder that you’re having trouble sleeping. But lack of sleep causes all kinds of issues.

Health impacts of lack of sleep

As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health impacts of insomnia will grow much more significant. And your general wellness can be negatively affected by this. Some of the most prevalent effects include the following:

  • Higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can start to affect your long-term health and well-being. Increased risk of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.
  • Slower reaction times: When you aren’t getting adequate sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. This can make daily tasks such as driving a little more hazardous. And it’s particularly dangerous if you operate heavy machinery, for example.
  • Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms you already have will get worse if you don’t sleep. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can result.
  • Inferior work results: Clearly, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a good night’s sleep. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be less positive.

Other causes of anxiety

Tinnitus, of course, isn’t the only source of anxiety. It’s important to know what these causes are so you can try to avoid stress triggers and possibly decrease your tinnitus at the same time. Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:

  • Medical conditions: You might, in some situations, have an increased anxiety response due to a medical condition.
  • Stress response: When something causes us great stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. If you are being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good thing. But it’s less good when you’re working on an assignment for work. Sometimes, the association between the two is not apparent. Something that triggered a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack today. You may even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from last year, for example.
  • Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can take place when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some individuals to have an anxiety attack.

Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors might also cause anxiety:

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

This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment options.

Dealing with anxiety-related tinnitus

In terms of anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two basic choices available. You can either try to treat the anxiety or treat the tinnitus. In either case, here’s how that may work:

Addressing anxiety

Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:

  • Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic approach will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by disrupting those thought patterns.
  • Medication: In some instances, medication may help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less pronounced.

Treating tinnitus

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 have tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you create new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and lessen your tinnitus symptoms.
  • White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, use a white noise machine. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.

Addressing your tinnitus could help you sleep better

As long as that thrumming or whooshing is keeping you awake at night, you’ll be at risk of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. Dealing with your tinnitus first is one possible solution. To do that, you should give us a call.

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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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