Overview

Earplugs are useful for protecting your ears against loud noises, but many people also use them to sleep. They can make a world of difference for light sleepers or people who live in a noisy area. Still, there’s some debate over whether it’s safe to sleep with earplugs in every night.

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits and risks of regularly sleeping with earplugs.

What are the benefits?

Sleeping with earplugs can significantly increase the quality of your sleep. For many people, earplugs are the only way to block out sounds while they sleep, such as noise from a nearby freeway or a snoring partner.

This is significant because the quality of your sleep matters just as much as the amount you get. Loud sounds can wake you up out of a deep sleep. This has lasting effects, even if you wake up only for a few seconds. It takes time for your body to return to that phase of deep sleep that your body needs after a full day.

According to a 2006 report, low-quality sleep over a long period of time may increases your risk of:

Another report from 2012 noted that poor sleep is also linked to inflammation and reduced immune function, which both negatively impact your health.

Given the importance of sleep for your overall health, earplugs offer benefits that go far beyond just getting a good night’s sleep.

Are there any side effects?

Earplugs are general safe. However, they do come with a few potential side effects, especially if you use them regularly.

Over time, earplugs can push ear wax back into your ear, causing a buildup. This can cause several problems, including temporary hearing loss and tinnitus. To clear the wax, you’ll need to either use ear drops to soften it or have it removed by your doctor.

Earplugs can also cause ear infections. While they can happen due to a buildup of ear wax, bacteria growing on earplugs can also cause them. Ear infections are often painful and can have lasting complications, such as hearing loss, if not treated.

What’s the best type for sleeping?

Earplugs are generally divided into vented and non-vented types. Vented earplugs have a small hole, which helps to equalize the pressure in your ear. These are useful for flying and scuba diving, but don’t work any better than non-vented earplugs when it comes to sleeping.

In addition, vented earplugs are usually categorized by their material:

  • Wax. Wax earplugs are easy to mold to the size of your ear. They’re a good choice for both sleeping and swimming since they’re waterproof.
  • Silicone. Hard silicone earplugs have the added benefit of being reusable, but they’re usually uncomfortable for sleeping, especially if you’re a side-sleeper. Soft silicone earplugs work similarly to wax ones and provide a more comfortable fit. However, some people find they aren’t as effective at blocking sounds as other types.
  • Foam. Foam earplugs are the most inexpensive option. They’re also soft, which makes them a good choice for sleeping. However, their porous material makes them a good environment for bacteria, so you’ll need to replace them often.

You can also talk to your doctor about custom-made earplugs. This involves making a mold of your ears and creating a pair of reusable earplugs that matches their shape. Custom earplugs tend to be more expensive, and they still need to be cleaned regularly. They’re also very good at blocking out all noises — including an alarm clock or emergency alert, so use them with caution.

How do I use them?

Using earplugs correctly can reduce your risk of having any side effects.

Follow these steps to safely use earplugs:

  1. Roll the earplug with clean fingers until it’s narrow enough to fit in your ear.
  2. Pull your ear lobe away from your head.
  3. Insert the earplug just far enough to block sound. Don’t push them in as far as they’ll go because you’ll risk irritating the lining of your eardrum.
  4. If you’re using foam earplugs, keep your hand over your ear until the earplug expands to fill your ear.

If you’re using disposable earplugs, especially foam ones, make sure you replace them every few days. To extend their life, you can try washing them every day in warm water and mild soap. Just make sure you let them dry completely before putting them in.

The bottom line

If you’re a light sleeper or need to sleep in noisy areas, earplugs are a great option for improving the quality of your sleep. Just make sure you regularly clean or replace them so you don’t develop an ear infection, and never stick them too far into your ear.

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