Illini Hearing - Champaign and Mahomet, IL

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

You first hear the sound when you’re in bed trying to sleep: a beating or perhaps a throbbing, possibly a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, which is not good because you need your sleep and you’ve got 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 linked. And you can understand how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to produce 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 typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a bit more complex than that. First of all, the actual sound you hear can take a large number of shapes, from pulsing to throbbing to ringing and so on. But the noise you’re hearing isn’t an actual external sound. When people experience stress, for many people, tinnitus can appear.

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

Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combination bad?

This combo 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 caused by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing might have also been there during the day but your day-to-day activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make falling asleep a little tricky. And more anxiety can result from not sleeping.
  • You might be having a more severe anxiety attack if you start to spike tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve acknowledged the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you detect tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could increase.

There are situations where tinnitus can manifest in one ear and eventually move to both. Sometimes, it can stick around 24/7–all day every day. There are other situations where it comes and goes. Whether constant or intermittent, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.

How does tinnitus-anxiety impact your sleep?

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

  • Most people sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. It’s night, so you turn everything off. 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 rises your tinnitus gets worse.
  • The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to dismiss. If you’re laying there just attempting to fall asleep, your tinnitus can become the metaphorical dripping faucet, keeping you awake all night. Your tinnitus can get even louder and harder to tune out as your anxiety about not sleeping increases.

When your tinnitus is a result of anxiety, you might fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. This can, understandably, make it very hard to sleep. The problem is that lack of sleep, well, sort of makes everything worse.

How lack of sleep impacts your health

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

  • Reduced reaction times: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your reaction times are more sluggish. This can make daily activities like driving a little more hazardous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
  • Increased stress and worry: When you’re not sleeping, it makes those anxiety symptoms you already have even worse. This can become a vicious cycle of mental health-related issues.
  • Inferior work performance: Clearly, your job performance will diminish if you can’t get a sound night’s sleep. Your thinking will be slower and your mood will be less positive.
  • 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.

Other causes of anxiety

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

  • Hyperstimulation: An anxiety attack can happen when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For example, being around crowds can sometimes trigger an anxiety response for some people.
  • Medical conditions: In some cases, you may simply have a medical condition that makes you more prone to an elevated anxiety response.
  • Stress response: When something causes us great stress, our bodies will normally go into an anxious mode. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a lion. But when you’re dealing with a project at work, that’s not so good. Sometimes, the association between the two is not very clear. Something that triggered a stress response last week could cause an anxiety attack today. You might even have an anxiety attack in reaction to a stressor from a year ago, for instance.

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

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

This list is not complete. And you should seek advice from your provider if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder.

Dealing with anxiety-induced tinnitus

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

Treating anxiety

In general, anxiety disorders are managed 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 disrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more successfully prevent anxiety attacks.
  • Medication: In some instances, medication may help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less noticeable.

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 trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this approach.
  • 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 minimize the disruptive impact it has. CBT is an approach that helps them do that by helping them produce new thought patterns.

Addressing your tinnitus may 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. 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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