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Essential guide to earplugs for sleeping

Many people have trouble sleeping at night due to the variety of noises inside and outside of our bedrooms. Being a light sleeper is increasingly difficult when dealing with the noise of roommates, a snoring partner, children, traffic, or other unfamiliar sounds when staying away from home. Not getting enough sleep can harm the overall mental and physical being of the individual. Earplugs are a simple, inexpensive method for reducing noise that disrupts sleep. Sleeping with earplugs is generally safe, but over time they do carry some risks. Follow a few simple tips to get a better night’s rest while maintaining good ear health.

“The research is pretty solid that noise can prevent people from getting a good night’s sleep,”

Decibel Hell: The Effects of Living in a Noisy World

Why wear earplugs while sleeping? 

  • Your sleep partner snores.
  • If you are a light sleeper.
  • When trying to sleep while others are awake.
  • You are traveling by airplane, train or bus.
  • When staying a hotel or Airbnb that may be noisy.

What to consider when choosing earplugs for sleeping

Consider the following attributes when shopping for earplugs for sleeping.

Materials

  • Foam – Most common and least expensive type of earplug material. Typically single-use and should not be reused due to bacteria growth.
  • Silicone – Used to cover the entrance of the ear rather than inserted deep into the ear canal. Silicone earplugs are reusable and can be washed.
  • Wax – More expensive and less common. Some find them the most effective at blocking sound.

Shapes

Ears are different sizes and shapes, and it might require trying a few styles to find the perfect fit for your ear shape. Below are the various shapes available for earplugs.

  • Cylindrical (Tapered / Non-Tapered)
  • Circular
  • Bell-shaped
  • T-Shaped
  • Moldable

Sizes

Some are one size fits all while others come in sizes depending on your ear canal size.

Noise reduction rating

Most earplugs come with Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR) measured in decibels (dB). The range should be between 20-34, and the higher the number, the more noise that is blocked.

Re-usability

Most earplugs that are foam are one-time use and are thrown away after each use. Silicone earplugs should be washed and will last a few months.

Price

A box of single-use earplugs (50-200 pairs) typically cost less than $30. A box of reusable earplugs (25 pairs) typically cost less than $20.

Earplug Health Risks

Wearing earplugs for sleeping each night carries some health and safety risks. Avoid most risks by practicing good ear hygiene and regular cleaning of your earplugs.

Earwax Impaction

Earwax is a waxy substance (cerumen) that helps protect the ear canal from dust, dead skin, and other debris. The earwax pushes the contaminants out of the ear canal. Wearing earplugs every night can affect the amount of earwax that drains by blocking the process.  Consequences of earwax buildup include:

  • Itching and discomfort in the ear
  • Tinnitus (ringing noise in the ear)
  • Hearing difficulties
  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Ear infection

Prevention: Thoroughly clean the ear canal and the earplugs daily or at least multiple times per week. Overused or uncleaned earplugs are susceptible to bacteria, which can lead to infection. A buildup of wax on the earplug makes it easier for bacteria to transfer from your fingers to the ear canal.

Treatment: The good news is that earwax buildup is solved quickly and painlessly when identified early. Treatments for earwax buildup include medical ear drops or physical removal of the earwax.

Ear Infections

If ear wax doesn’t drain properly, there is a risk of an ear infection. It is essential to clean the earplugs to avoid contamination and potential infection. 

Prevention: Clean the reusable earplugs by submerging them in warm soapy water and scrub to remove any dirt or waxy buildup. Rinse in cold water and let dry. When using earplugs that specify one-time use, make sure to follow those instructions for a scheduled replacement to avoid bacteria and contamination.

Muffled Hearing

If the earplugs do too good of a job, you may not be able to hear an alarm, smoke alarm, carbon monoxide detector. Make sure to the devices while wearing the earplugs for safety reasons. 

Alternatives to earplugs

Aren’t sure if earplugs are right for you? Consider these alternatives to earplugs.

  • Headphones
  • Sound apps
  • White noise machines

Sleeping Earplugs we have reviewed

Sleeping earplugs tips

Do you sleep with earplugs? Which ones do you like or don’t like? Do you have any tips? Share your experience sleep earplugs below.

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