Are my Sleep Problems and my Tinnitus Triggered by Anxiety?

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

You first notice the sound when you’re in bed attempting to sleep: Your ear has a whooshing or throbbing in it. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And once you hear 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 sleepy, you feel anxious.

Does this seem familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it so happens, are closely related. And you can understand how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to generate a vicious cycle, one that robs you of your sleep, your rest, and can affect your health.

Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?

Tinnitus is generally referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Firstly, lots of different sounds can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a beating or whooshing. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that isn’t really there. For many people, tinnitus can appear when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is definitely a thing.

For individuals who experience feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings often hinder their life because they have difficulty controlling them. This can manifest in many ways physically, that includes as tinnitus. So can anxiety trigger tinnitus? Definitely!

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

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

  • Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more often at night. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make falling asleep a bit tricky. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
  • Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve made this connection, any occurrence of tinnitus (whether due to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.

Often, tinnitus can start in one ear and then change to the other. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. In other situations, it might pulsate for a few moments and then go away. Whether continuous or intermittent, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have 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:

  • Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s time for bed. But your tinnitus can be much more obvious when everything is quiet.
  • Your stress level will keep rising the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level rises your tinnitus gets worse.
  • It can be difficult to ignore your tinnitus and that can be very stressful. 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 more difficult to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.

When your anxiety is contributing to your tinnitus, you may hear that whooshing sound and worry that an anxiety attack is coming. This can, obviously, make it very hard to sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.

Health affects of lack of sleep

As this vicious cycle continues, the health impacts of insomnia will grow much more significant. And your overall wellness can be negatively impacted by this. Some of the most common effects include the following:

  • Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. This can make daily activities such as driving a little more dangerous. And it’s especially dangerous if you run heavy equipment, for instance.
  • 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.
  • Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. This can result in a vicious cycle of mental health-related problems.
  • Poor work performance: Obviously, 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 more negative.

Other causes of anxiety

Tinnitus, of course, is not the only cause of anxiety. And knowing these causes is essential (largely because they will help you avoid anxiety triggers, which as an additional bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:

  • Hyperstimulation: For some people, getting too much of any one thing, even a good thing, can cause an anxiety episode. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some people to have an anxiety response.
  • Stress response: Our bodies will have a natural anxiety response when something stresses us. If you’re being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good thing. But when you’re working on a project at work, that’s not so good. Sometimes, it’s not so obvious what the link between the two is. Something that caused a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack today. You might even have an anxiety attack in response to a stressor from a year ago, for instance.
  • Medical conditions: In some instances, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to a heightened anxiety response.

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

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

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

How to treat your anxiety-induced tinnitus?

You have two general options to treat anxiety-related tinnitus. You can either try to treat the anxiety or address the tinnitus. In either case, here’s how that might work:

Treating anxiety

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

  • Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic method will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. By disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully prevent anxiety attacks.
  • Medication: In some instances, medication may help you cope with your symptoms or make your symptoms less pronounced.

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:

  • 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 a strategy that helps them do that by helping them create new thought patterns.
  • Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This can help minimize how much you notice your tinnitus.
  • White noise machine: When you’re trying to sleep, utilize a white noise machine. Your tinnitus symptoms might be able to be masked by this approach.

Addressing your tinnitus could help you sleep better

As long as that humming or whooshing is keeping you up 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 option. To do that, you should give us a call.

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.