Earplugs can block out unwelcome sounds that would otherwise keep you awake at night, including snoring partners, noisy neighbors, babies crying, and street noise.
Quality earplugs are safe to wear in bed regularly. Get earplugs that fit your ear shape and clean them daily to minimize the risk of ear infection. Don’t settle for ill-fitting or uncomfortable earplugs.
Only wear earplugs to bed if you find them comfy and don’t experience any adverse effects. Never ignore sudden-onset pain and discomfort from using earplugs because this risks eardrum damage.
What Happens if You Sleep with Earplugs in?
Sleeping with earplugs creates a sound barrier between the ear canal and the wider world. This can be critical to a good night’s sleep, especially in noisy towns and cities.
Sleep Science explains that environmental noise is among the main sleep disturbances.
If kept awake by traffic, shouting neighbors, noisy roommates, or a snoring partner, your quality of life will suffer. Earplugs provide a straightforward way to resolve these common issues.
That doesn’t mean that earplugs are a miracle cure for insomnia. Earplugs must be chosen carefully, so don’t pick up the least expensive pair because not all products are the same.
Why Do Earplugs Hurt My Ears?
It’s common for earplugs to feel strange or uncomfortable because you’re inserting a foreign object into the ear canal. If you misuse earplugs or choose sub-optimum products, discomfort can result.
You may feel otherwise, believing only one way to use earplugs exists. The Annals of Occupational Hygiene believes that training in the application of earplugs affects performance and comfort.
Can earplugs go in too far? Earplugs should be inserted so ambient noise around you is silenced without meeting resistance. Any further risks harming the inner ear by irritating the eardrum.
Earplugs should cease to feel uncomfortable within a few minutes. If not, you have the wrong apparatus.
Does Wearing Earplugs Damage Your Ears?
Some people dislike sleeping with something in their ears. If you remove your earrings before retiring for the night, you may be concerned about how earplugs affect your inner ear.
The possible side effects and problems that can arise from wearing earplugs include:
- A wax buildup due to the earplugs pushing it back into the ear.
- Temporary tinnitus and short-term hearing loss.
- Ear infections due to bacterial buildup.
- Swelling and general discomfort in the inner ear.
If your earplugs keep you up at night due to discomfort, stop using them. In addition, left ignored, the side effects of unsuitable earplugs can lead to longer-term health 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 using cotton wool instead.
In theory, this everyday product is the ideal substitute – it’s cheap, soft, and found in most bathrooms. In reality, sleeping with cotton wool in the ears is inadvisable.
Cotton balls don’t last long, shedding in tiny increments. These small pieces of rogue cotton can make their way into the ear canal. They’ll go unnoticed and gradually cause eardrum irritation.
Another concern with cotton wool is that it doesn’t breathe, which means sweat will gather in your ears overnight, leading to bacterial growth. Ear infections are near-certain to follow.
Benefits of Sleeping with Earplugs
Sleeping with earplugs makes you likelier to enjoy longer, uninterrupted, and deep sleep. The Journal of Sleep Research stated that earplugs enhance sleep quality in Intensive Care Units (ICU).
A hospital’s emergency ward is at the top of the list of places where sleep may prove elusive. This suggests that earplugs can be a failsafe way to block out unwelcome sounds.
Why Sleeping with Earplugs Is Bad
Having explained why many people choose to sleep wearing earplugs, we need to consider the negatives.
While well-fitting earplugs can provide respite from unwanted noise and promote a good night’s sleep, there are disadvantages. The potential drawbacks include:
Not everybody is comfortable sleeping with a foreign object in their ears.
If earplugs are hurting your ears or causing headaches or sinus pain, you may have the wrong kind.
Try a different material or a smaller or larger size. Alternatively, check your technique when applying the earplugs because you may be pushing them in too hard.
Earwax Build and Ear Infections
The main risk of prolonged use of earplugs is earwax. If you’re wearing earplugs, the inner ear will lack the ability to breathe. Equally, existing earwax will be pushed further inside the 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.
Sleeping in earplugs and not clearing the wax is a potential hazard. 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 regularly cleaning your ears and earplugs.
Over-Efficiency and Dependence
Be mindful of growing so dependent on earplugs that you require complete silence to sleep. Of course, some people can’t sleep when it’s silent.
What if earplugs are so effective that you can’t hear a smoke alarm or another important sound? Earplugs should mute and block unwanted noise, not create complete sensory deprivation.
Think about morning alarms for work because oversleeping can get your day off to a bad start.
Finding The Perfect Earplugs for Sleeping
The cheapest and most common earplugs are made from foam. You may have worn them during a flight or at a noisy concert. Foam earplugs are inexpensive, pliable, and disposable.
The issue with foam earplugs is often sizing. Foam earplugs are designed to be teased into the ear until they stay in place. Unfortunately, many people find foam earplugs spring from their ears.
Pre-molded silicon earplugs can have 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 will block noise well. Alas, if the earplugs don’t fit easily, they’ll never fit.
Consider custom-made silicon earplugs if you’re serious about earplug usage.
These are molded from silicon to the dimensions of your ear canal, providing lasting noise protection. Used correctly and cleaned regularly, they’re safe for long-term use.
Alternatively, consider wax earplugs if you dislike feeling pressure on the ear canal.
These sit snugly and mold themselves to an appropriate shape and size. They can’t be reused, so always throw away wax earplugs in the morning, using a new set each night.
How to Safely Fit and Use Earplugs for Sleeping
Follow these instructions for safe long-term use of earplugs overnight:
- Clean the earplugs with water and remove any wax from your ears.
- Rub and mold the earplug with your fingers until it feels pliable.
- Carefully stretch the 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 to assess the effectiveness of the earplugs.
Don’t yank the earplugs out in one fluid motion because this can irritate the ear canal. Wash the earplugs (if they’re reusable), and be vigilant about any side effects of sleeping with earplugs.
Alternatives to Earplugs for Sleeping
All isn’t lost if you struggle to find earplugs that don’t cause inner ear problems. There are alternative ways to block out sound and enjoy a good night’s sleep, including:
- White noise machines 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.
If all else fails, consider relocating to a spare bedroom or setting up a bed in another room.
Earplugs aren’t for everybody, but they can be a solution if you struggle to sleep at night due to external noise. When using earplugs regularly, compromising on comfort isn’t a sustainable solution.
If you take the time to find the right earplugs and clean them regularly, they’re safe for regular usage.