Are my Sleep Issues and my Tinnitus Triggered by Anxiety?

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: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is pulsing at the same rhythm as your heartbeat. And once you hear that sound, 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? 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 outcome.

Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?

Generally, 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 wide variety of forms, from pulsing to throbbing to ringing and so on. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. For many people, tinnitus can appear when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.

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

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:

  • You might be having a more serious anxiety attack if you start to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve acknowledged the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you notice tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could increase.
  • Normally, nighttime is when most individuals really notice their tinnitus symptoms. Can anxiety trigger ringing in the ear? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply masked the symptoms. This can make falling asleep a bit tricky. And that sleeplessness can itself cause more anxiety.

Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then move to the other. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. There are other circumstances where it comes and goes. Either way, this anxiety-tinnitus-combo can have negative health consequences.

How does tinnitus-anxiety impact your sleep?

Your sleep loss could certainly be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. Some examples of how are as follows:

  • The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to overlook. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so persistent that you lie awake until morning. As your anxiety about not sleeping grows, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can grow louder and even more difficult to tune out.
  • The level of your stress will keep rising the longer you go without sleeping. The more stressed you are, the worse your tinnitus will be.
  • 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 noticeable.

When your anxiety is contributing to your tinnitus, you might hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is near. This can, understandably, make it very difficult to sleep. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.

How lack of sleep impacts your health

The impact insomnia has on your health will continue to become more severe as this vicious cycle continues. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Some of the most prevalent effects include the following:

  • Slower reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. This can make daily activities like driving a little more dangerous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
  • Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can be the outcome.
  • Poor work results: It should come as no surprise that if you can’t get to sleep, your job efficiency will become affected. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be less positive.
  • Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and well-being will be affected over time by lack of sleep. Increased danger of a stroke or heart disease can be the outcome.

Other causes of anxiety

Of course, there are other causes of anxiety besides tinnitus. And recognizing these causes is essential (largely because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you avoid your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:

  • Hyperstimulation: For some individuals, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can cause an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded environment, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety attack.
  • Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will naturally go into an anxious mode. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a tiger. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so good. Often, it’s not so obvious what the link between the two is. Something that triggered a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack tomorrow. You may even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from a year ago, for example.
  • Medical conditions: In some instances, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more prone to an elevated anxiety response.

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

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

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

How to treat your anxiety-related tinnitus?

In terms of anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two general choices available. The anxiety can be addressed or the tinnitus can be dealt with. In either situation, here’s how that might work:

Treating anxiety

There are a couple of possibilities for managing anxiety:

  • Medication: In some cases, medication may help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less pronounced.
  • Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Certain thought patterns can inadvertently exacerbate your anxiety symptoms and this approach will help you recognize those thought patterns. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more effectively prevent anxiety attacks.

Treating tinnitus

Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Some of the most common treatments include:

  • White noise machine: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re attempting to sleep. This may help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If someone with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can minimize the disruptive effect it has. CBT is a strategy that helps them do that by helping them produce new thought patterns.
  • Masking device: This is basically a white noise machine that you wear near your ear. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.

Dealing with your tinnitus may 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. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. Contact us so we can help.

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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    Dr. Laura Padham, Audiologist

    Ocean Gate, NJ

    143 W Barnegat Avenue
    Ocean Gate, NJ 08740

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