A Link between Tinnitus, Anxiety, and Sleep Issues       

In Tinnitus by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A
Latest posts by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A (see all)

Tinnitus is the medical term for hearing disturbance (usually vibration or ringing) in your ears when there is no ambient sound. Fifty million people in the United States suffer tinnitus, according to the American Tinnitus Society. Perhaps shockingly, only about 12 million are seeking medical assistance for it.

While tinnitus can affect anyone, some people are more likely to encounter tinnitus than others. Musicians, construction workers, veterans, and other people in high-noise conditions who work or spend time are more prone to tinnitus than the general public. Other causes of tinnitus include jaw or TMJ conditions, earwax buildup, hearing loss, cardiovascular disease, injuries to the head or neck, and certain medications.

Tinnitus and anxiety: A vicious cycle

Much like your body enters the “fight or flight” mode when you come across a real threat (think of an intruder in your home), tinnitus will cause the same physical and emotional reaction. It can trigger an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and sleeplessness when your brain categorizes tinnitus as a possible threat. That makes concentration or relaxation very difficult when you have tinnitus.

This is how tinnitus can cause frustration and anxiety, leading to low moods and anxiety. Not only is tinnitus a cause of anxiety, but it’s also a symptom of it. Stressing about anxiety stresses the body, which can intensify the ringing in the ears.

Tinnitus and sleep issues: A product of anxiety

Research investigating the association between tinnitus and sleep disorders found that 54 percent of people with tinnitus also had a sleep disorder. During the same analysis, scientists also found that these sleep disorders exacerbated tinnitus in turn.

Why do people with tinnitus find it harder to sleep? It might be that the change from a reasonably noisy daytime environment to nighttime quietness makes tinnitus sounds more obvious.

Another reason could be that tinnitus disrupts our sleep cycle. A typical sleep night has several stages, from light to deep sleep, and involves multiple awakenings; the first awakening typically occurs after only a few hours of sleep. Natural awakenings during the night are usually forgotten about, but they can last much longer and be remembered if you are aware of your tinnitus during them. It seems more likely that tinnitus doesn’t wake people up, but it may be the first thing you hear when a natural awakening occurs.

When you get older, you undergo a deeper sleep and more awakenings. Sleep is lighter and more sporadic. Tinnitus also disproportionately affects older adults. These two forces combined might be working together to prevent sleep in older adults with tinnitus.

How to do with sleep problems

Instead of lying awake, people with tinnitus are advised to take measures to fall asleep faster. Here are some tips to help you.

  • Get into the right mood with presleep habits. Gentle relaxation, soft music listening, and meditation are effective ways to relax the body and mind before bedtime.
  • Practice progressive relaxation. This a process that involves tensing and relaxing individual body parts. When your body is completely relaxed, you will feel more tired than before.
  • Focus on calm thoughts. Try to calm your mind and concentrate on calming thoughts. Whatever you think is entirely up to you. Many daydreams about specific locations, while others think about things to look forward to in the future. Given ample time and relaxation, the body will fall asleep.
  • Use a white noise machine or app. If your tinnitus is too noisy, white noise can help drown out the sound. Many devices, including actual white noise makers, fans, and even smartphone apps, can create this sound. Consider sitting by a fan or running faucet to see if you can benefit from a white noise generator – if your tinnitus is rendered inaudible, a white noise generator might be a worthwhile investment.
  • Seek professional help. Medical support will help you find better solutions. Hearing professionals are qualified to diagnose your hearing issues and give you the best treatment options possible.

We have the tools to help you with your tinnitus symptoms and get you back to living your life. Contact us today to learn more about our range of treatments.