What to know about sleeping with earplugs
Last reviewed Fri 24 May 2019 By Aaron Kandola Reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA
Earplugs are generally safe to use while sleeping. However, it is possible that frequent use can lead to some minor problems in the long run, such as earwax buildup.
Sometimes, noise from the environment can disrupt sleep. For example, having a bedroom that faces a busy street can affect sleep duration. However, disrupted sleep may also be a problem when trying to sleep in different environments, such as on a plane.
Earplugs can significantly reduce the amount of sound entering the ears, which may help people get to sleep in noisy environments.
This article will discuss the safety of earplugs and the benefits they can provide.
Using earplugs is a great way to block out surrounding noises that can disturb a natural sleep pattern.
Not all noises have a negative effect on sleep. For example, some people find white noise or music helpful for falling asleep.
In many cases, however, noise can make it difficult to fall asleep or to get a full night's sleep.
Earplugs could promote good sleep for people who live in a noisy neighborhood or want to get some sleep on a flight.
What does the research say?
Research shows that earplugs are a safe and affordable way of improving sleep quality.
In some cases, the use of earplugs, along with eye masks, can increase rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the deepest form of sleep and supports several important processes, such as memory consolidation.
Earplugs may also increase melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that controls when the body is ready for sleep.
Compared with some other methods of inducing sleep, earplugs have fewer side effects. For example, both over-the-counter and prescription sleeping pills can have a range of side effects, such as dizziness and daytime drowsiness.
Types and how to use
It is important to use earplugs appropriately, depending on their type.
For expandable foam earplugs, roll them into a tight cylindrical shape and insert halfway into the ear canal, where they will expand.
Other types of earplugs are cone-shaped and will not expand in the ear. Carefully insert the smaller end into the ear canal and gently push the earplug in to tighten.
The earplug should noticeably reduce sound but still be comfortable enough to sleep in. At first, using earplugs may feel unnatural. However, this feeling will go away over time.
Wearing earplugs can lead to a buildup of earwax, causing itching and discomfort in the ear.
Although earplugs are safe to use in general, there is little information on how frequent use of earplugs over long periods of time could affect the ears.
Earwax is important for maintaining good ear health, but it can also cause problems.
Repeatedly blocking the ear canal, such as with regular use of earplugs, can cause a buildup of earwax.
Having a buildup of earwax can cause:
itching and discomfort in the ear
tinnitus, a ringing noise in the ear
Treatments options for an earwax buildup include using medical eardrops or undergoing the direct removal of the earwax.
It is also possible for the regular use of earplugs to cause an ear infection. This can occur as a result of bacteria entering the ear canal from the earplug itself or growing from a buildup of earwax.
An ear infection can cause symptoms that include:
itching and discomfort in the ear
It is possible to treat a bacterial ear infection by taking antibiotic medications.
Getting enough sleep is essential for good health.
Earplugs can help improve the quality and duration of sleep. They can also allow people to take naps in public places and catch up on any missed sleep from the night before.
Getting enough sleep has a range of health benefits. A lack of sleep could increase the riskof chronic health conditions such as:
increased risk of infection
These symptoms can be highly disruptive to daily life. They can even be life threatening when they occur during driving or operating heavy machinery.
Earplugs can help people avoid sleep deprivation and the chronic health conditions it can cause. Adults should aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers and children tend to need around 8–13 hours of sleep every night.
Earplugs are a safe and affordable way of getting more good quality sleep. Frequent use of earplugs could lead to a buildup of earwax or an ear infection.
However, the dangers of sleep deprivation are more severe. Sleep deprivation can increase the risk of chronic health conditions and be highly disruptive to normal daily life.
People who are unable to get a good night's sleep due to excess noise in their environment may benefit from using earplugs.