does wearing earplugs damage your ears?
Stop Snoring

Is It Safe to Wear Earplugs in Bed Regularly?

If you’re a light sleeper, the idea of wearing earplugs to bed may be appealing.

Earplugs can block out unwelcome sounds that would otherwise keep you up at night, including a snoring partner, noisy neighbors, and ambient street noise.

High-quality earplugs are safe to wear in bed regularly. Get earplugs designed to fit your ear shape and clean them daily to minimize the risk of bacterial ear infections. Don’t settle for ill-fitting or uncomfortable earplugs, as these will have negative implications for your health.

Only consistently wear earplugs to bed if you find them comfortable and don’t experience any side effects. It’s inadvisable to ignore pain after using earplugs.

If you continue using the accessories, you risk eardrum damage. 

What Happens if You Sleep with Earplugs in?

If you choose to sleep with earplugs in, you’ll be creating a sound barrier between your ear canal and the wider world. This can be critical to achieving a good night’s sleep, especially if you live in a noisy area.

Sleep Science explains that environmental noise is among the most prominent disturbances to sleep. If you’re being kept awake by traffic, shouting neighbors, a snoring partner, or any other kind of din, your quality of life will suffer. Earplugs can resolve these issues.

That doesn’t mean that earplugs are a miracle cure for insomnia, though. Earplugs need to be chosen carefully, so don’t just pick up the least expensive pair you find in your local drugstore.

Familiarize yourself with best practices to enjoy these peripherals overnight. That way, you can be assured that your use of earplugs is safe and sustainable.

Why Do Earplugs Hurt My Ears?

It’s common for earplugs to feel a little strange or uncomfortable when you first apply them. You’re placing a foreign object in the ear canal, after all. If you misuse earplugs or choose sub-optimum products, discomfort can follow.

You may scoff at this, believing there’s only one way to use earplugs. In truth, as revealed by The Annals of Occupational Hygiene, training in the application of earplugs can make a huge difference to performance and comfort.

For example, you may find yourself wondering, “can earplugs go in too far?” Earplugs should be pushed to the point that ambient noise around you is muffled without meeting resistance. Any further and you risk damaging your inner ear by irritating the eardrum.

Earplugs should cease to hurt within a few minutes. If this isn’t the case, you have the wrong apparatus. Not all earplugs are equal, and some are undeniably more comfortable than others. If your earplugs give you a headache or any other ailment, look for alternatives.

do earplugs have side effects?

Does Wearing Earplugs Damage Your Ears?

Some people are a little squeamish about the idea of sleeping with something in their ears. For example, if you take the time to take out your earrings before retiring for the night, you may be worried about wearing such peripherals.

So, do earplugs have side effects? They can if used regularly, especially if you are not wearing the right kind of earplugs.

The side effects of wearing earplugs include:

  • Build-up of wax, as the plugs are pushing this back into the ear
  • Temporary tinnitus and even short-term hearing loss
  • Ear infections caused by bacteria
  • Swelling and general discomfort in the inner ear

If your earplugs are keeping you up at night due to discomfort, stop using them at once. You are just exchanging one cause of insomnia for another with inappropriate earplugs. In addition, left ignored, the side effects of unsuitable earplugs can lead to longer-term issues.

The adverse effects of wearing earplugs shouldn’t last longer than a few minutes in the morning. If you suffer headaches, vertigo, dizziness, or sinus issues throughout the day, seek medical advice. You may have developed an ear infection through earplug use.

Can I Use Cotton Wool Instead of Earplugs?

If you find earplugs uncomfortable, you may consider stuffing your ear canals with cotton wool instead. This everyday product is the ideal substitute on paper – it’s cheap, soft, and found in most bathrooms. In reality, sleeping with cotton wool in the ears is inadvisable.

Cotton balls are not built to last; they gradually shed in tiny increments. These small pieces of rogue cotton can then make their way into the ear canal; they’ll be small enough to go unnoticed and gradually cause more irritation to the eardrum.

Another concern with cotton wool is that the material does not breathe, which means that you’ll be allowing sweat to gather in your ears overnight, encouraging bacterial growth. Ear infections are almost sure to follow, the side effects of which can be pretty debilitating.

Benefits of Sleeping with Earplugs

Sleeping with earplugs only really has one benefit, but it’s a crucial one – you’re likelier to enjoy a longer, uninterrupted, and deep sleep. The Journal of Sleep Research confirms that earplugs – especially when paired with eye masks – enhances sleep quality in an ICU.

Of all the places that sleep may prove elusive due to noise, the hospital’s emergency ward is undoubtedly at the top of the list. This suggests that earplugs can be a failsafe way to block out unwelcome sounds in a – presumably much quieter – private residence.

If you choose suitable earplugs, you’ll benefit from sleeping with these peripherals. Just be mindful of the potential pitfalls of earplugs and pay attention to any warning signs that your use is unsafe.

Why Sleeping with Earplugs is Bad

Having explained why many people choose to sleep wearing earplugs, we need to look at the other side of the coin. While well-fitting earplugs can provide a welcome respite from unwanted noise and promote a good night’s sleep, there are downsides to earplugs, too.


Not everybody is comfortable sleeping with a foreign object in the ears. You may find that you adapt to sleeping with earplugs if you give it a few minutes. Don’t endure prolonged suffering, though.

If earplugs are making your ears hurt – or causing headaches or sinus pain – you may have the wrong kind of earplug. Try a different material or a smaller or larger size. Alternatively, check your technique when applying the earplugs, as you may be pushing them in too hard.

If you still cannot get comfortable, earplugs are not for you, no matter what you try. This is more common than you may realize. In such instances, investigate an alternative way to block out external noise at night.

Earwax Build and Ear Infections

Arguably the most considerable risk of prolonged use of earplugs is earwax. If you’re wearing earplugs, your inner ear will lack the ability to breathe. Equally, any existing earwax will be pushed further inside your ear.

If your ears are blocked with wax, you may experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears), vertigo (dizziness attacks, as though the room is spinning), or even hearing loss. Initially, these concerns will be short-term and temporary; over time, they risk permanence.

Permanent ear problems become likelier if you develop an ear infection. This is a potential hazard of continually sleeping in earplugs and not giving the wax time to clear. While many inner ear infections are managed with ear drops, some have a long-term impact.

Reduce the impact of earwax and inner ear infections by cleaning your ears and earplugs regularly. Laryngoscope recommends the use of warm water and hydrogen peroxide for this. Consult a healthcare professional or audiologist before applying hydrogen peroxide straight to the ear, though.

Over-Efficiency and Dependence

Be mindful of growing so dependent on earplugs that you require complete silence to sleep. This isn’t always going to be an option. Situations may arise where you lose or break your earplugs.

Also, earplugs can become so effective that they’re dangerous. What if earplugs deafen you so much you cannot hear a smoke alarm or another important sound? Earplugs should mute and block unwanted noise, not create complete sensory deprivation.

Think about morning alarms, too. Oversleeping may not be life-threatening, but it can get your day off to a wretched start. Do not allow earplugs to negatively impact your morning for the sake of a quieter night.

Finding the Perfect Earplugs for Sleeping

If you’re convinced that earplugs will enhance your sleep and, by extension, your quality of life, start shopping for the ideal set. It’s not as simple as purchasing a sub-$5 pair from a drugstore spinner rack.

The cheapest and most commonplace earplugs on the market are made from foam. You may have worn them during a flight or at a noisy concert. Foam earplugs are cheap, pliable, and disposable.

The biggest issue with foam earplugs is often sizing. Foam earplugs are designed to be teased into the ear until they stick. That’s by no means a guarantee; many people find that foam earplugs spring from their ears without warning.

Pre-molded silicon earplugs can provide a similar issue, depending on the shape and size of your ear canal. Some people find pre-molded earplugs a perfect fit. If so, these cleanable and reusable earplugs block noise well. Alas, if the earplugs do not fit easily, they’ll not fit at all.

If you’re serious about earplug usage and don’t mind spending more, consider custom-made silicon earplugs. These will be molded from silicon to the exact dimensions of your ear canal, ensuring you’ll have lifelong, reusable noise protection. Used correctly and cleaned regularly, these earplugs will be safe for long-term use.

Alternatively, if you dislike the feeling of pressure on the ear canal, consider wax earplugs. These sit snugly and mold themselves to an appropriate shape and size. They cannot be re-used, so always throw away wax earplugs in the morning, using a new set each night.

why sleeping with earplugs is bad

How to Safely Fit and Use Earplugs for Sleeping

Having discussed finding the ideal earplugs, we now need to confirm how these peripherals should be used and fit for maximum impact.

Follow these instructions for safe long-term use of earplugs overnight.

  • If required, clean the earplugs with water and remove any wax from your ears
  • Wash your hands thoroughly
  • Rub and mold the earplug with your fingers until it feels pliable
  • Gently stretch your ear canal and apply the earplug
  • Push the earplug as far as you can without feeling resistance
  • Stand for a few seconds, allowing the earplug to settle into place
  • Clap your hands or turn on the TV – something that will denote the effectiveness of the earplug

Earplugs should be removed when you wake in the morning when they’re no longer required. Do this gently and gradually – don’t harshly yank the earplugs out in one fluid motion as this can irritate and damage the ear canal.

Wash the earplugs at once if they are reusable, and remain aware of any side effects that may have arisen by sleeping with earplugs in. If you feel fine and had a good night’s sleep undisturbed by noise, you can safely repeat this process in the future.

Alternatives to Earplugs for Sleeping

All is not lost if you struggle to find earplugs that don’t cause inner ear problems. There are alternative ways to block sound and enjoy a good night’s sleep without applying earplugs.

These include the following:

  • White noise machines to drown out different sounds
  • Playing music through a smart pillow or Bluetooth-powered headband
  • Sleeping earmuffs (worn over the head and engineered with noise-canceling technology)
  • Anti-snoring peripherals for a partner
  • Soundproofing walls or windows

Of course, a final solution is to sleep in a different location. If all else fails, consider relocating to a spare bedroom or setting up a bed in another room in the house. That may be frustrating, but it is better than risking permanent health issues by persisting with inappropriate earplugs.

Earplugs aren’t for everybody, but they can be a solution if you struggle to sleep at night due to external noise. If using earplugs regularly, compromising on comfort isn’t a sustainable solution. However, if you take the time to find the ideal earplugs and clean them regularly, they’re safe for regular use in bed.