Hearing Services of Nashville

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: a pulsing or perhaps a throbbing, possibly a whooshing, right in your ear. The sound is beating in rhythm with your heartbeat. And once you notice that sound, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you up, which is bad because you need your sleep and you’ve got a big day tomorrow. And suddenly you feel really anxious, very not sleepy.

Does this situation sound familiar? Anxiety, tinnitus, and sleep, as it turns out, are closely linked. A vicious cycle that robs you of your sleep and impacts your health can be the result.

Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?

Tinnitus is typically defined as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not as simple as that. First of all, the actual noise you hear can take a large number of shapes, from pulsing to throbbing to buzzing and so on. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. When people experience stress, for many, tinnitus can manifest.

An anxiety disorder is an affliction in which feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are difficult to control and severe enough to hinder your daily life. Tinnitus is just one of several ways this can physically materialize. So can anxiety cause tinnitus? Definitely!

Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?

This combo 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 begin 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 overall anxiety levels.
  • Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more frequently 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 hide the sound. This can make falling asleep a bit tricky. And more anxiety can come from not sleeping.

There are instances where tinnitus can start in one ear and at some point move to both. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. In other situations, it may pulsate for a few minutes and then go away. Whether constant or intermittent, this combo of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.

How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?

So, yeah, anxiety-related tinnitus could easily be causing your sleep issues. Here are a few examples of how:

  • Most individuals like it to be quiet when they sleep. You turn everything off because it’s bedtime. But your tinnitus can become much more noticeable when everything is silent.
  • Your stress level will keep rising the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level goes up your tinnitus will get worse.
  • It can be difficult to ignore your tinnitus and that can be very stressful. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so persistent that you lie awake until morning. Your tinnitus can get even louder and more difficult to ignore as your anxiety about not sleeping grows.

When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you may fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. This can, naturally, make it very difficult to sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of issues.

Health impacts of lack of sleep

As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health affects of insomnia will become much more significant. And your general wellness can be negatively affected by this. Here are some of the most common impacts:

  • Inferior work results: It should come as no shock that if you can’t get to sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. You won’t be as enthusiastic or be able to think on your feet as quickly.
  • Elevated stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. This can result in a vicious cycle of mental health-related symptoms.
  • Slower reaction times: Your reaction times will be slower when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily tasks will then be more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
  • Greater 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.

Other causes of anxiety

Of course, there are other sources of anxiety besides tinnitus. And recognizing these causes is important (mainly because they will help you prevent 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:

  • Stress response: When something causes us extreme stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s great if you’re being chased by a lion. But it’s not so good when you’re working on an assignment for work. Sometimes, it’s not so obvious what the link between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack today from something that caused a stress response a week ago. Even a stressor from a year ago can cause an anxiety attack now.
  • Medical conditions: In some cases, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more prone to an increased anxiety response.
  • Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can happen when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For instance, being around crowds can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some people.

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

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

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

How to deal with your anxiety-induced tinnitus?

In terms of anxiety-induced tinnitus, there are two basic choices available. You can either try to treat the anxiety or address the tinnitus. Here’s how that might work in either case:

Treating anxiety

There are a couple of options for treating anxiety:

  • Medication: In some instances, 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 method will help you recognize those thought patterns. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by disrupting those thought patterns.

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:

  • White noise machine: Use a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this strategy.
  • Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): If somebody with tinnitus can recognize and accept their tinnitus symptoms they can minimize the disruptive impact it has. CBT is an approach that helps them do that by helping them create new thought patterns.

Dealing with your tinnitus may help you sleep better

You’ll be in danger of falling into a vicious cycle of anxiety and tinnitus if the whooshing and ringing are keeping you up at night. One plan is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should contact us.

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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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