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Is sleeping with earplugs bad for you?

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The modern world is noisy, there’s no doubt about that. From car alarms to arguments, your partner snoring to the hum of a TV, it’s no surprise that many of us turn to earplugs as a practical solution for getting a quiet night’s sleep. But, is sleeping with earplugs harmful?

Why do people sleep with earplugs?

Earplugs are a cost-effective and helpful way of protecting your ears against loud noises, and are often used on sites or working environments where the decibels often exceed a certain level for a prolonged period of time. But they can also be extremely useful for helping light sleepers or those who live in noisy areas to sleep better. 

However, there are still some questions over whether it’s safe to wear earplugs while sleeping. We’ll answer the question ‘is sleeping with earplugs harmful?’ and offer our top tips to avoid any unnecessary risks. 

What are the different types of earplugs?

From reusables to single use options, foam to wax, there are so many different types of earplugs. But, what are the best types of earplugs for sleeping, and what do you need to look out for?

  • Comfort: when it comes to sleeping, comfort is key, and it’s no different with earplugs. So, when choosing the best earplugs for sleeping, you’ll want to choose a pair that won’t cause any irritation or discomfort. 
  • Practicality and usability: there’s nothing worse than buying a product that’s designed to help you out, only to find they’re overly confusing to use. For earplugs, look for those that are simple to insert and remove. 
  • Lifespan: while you can, of course, use a new set of reusable ear plugs each night, it’s not great for both your bank balance and the environment, so when choosing the right pair of earplugs to use while sleeping, look for those options that are reusable and durable. 

If you’re looking for a long-term solution to help you sleep better, we recommend two types of earplugs:

  • Foam earplugs: while generally disposable, meaning they’re not too great on the environment, foam earplugs remain one of the best types if you’re looking to totally block out external noise, making them ideal for a peaceful night’s sleep. 
  • Silicone earplugs: silicone earplugs are a great choice if you find foam models too itchy or pressurised, as they can provide a more comfortable fit, especially those made from soft silicone. 
  • Our choice? The AudioNova Universal Sleep Ear Plugs are designed to reduce a range of intrusive noises - from cars and bin collectors to snoring - and are made from extra soft silicone for added comfort.

So, what are the benefits of wearing earplugs while sleeping?

Sleeping with earplugs can greatly improve not just the amount of sleep you get, but also the quality, which is really important when it comes to reducing the risk of health conditions such as obesity, depression and heart disease - all of which can be increased by a lack of sleep. Similarly, sleep deprivation can have a huge impact on your daily life, and can cause symptoms such as mood swings, exhaustion, drowsiness and trouble concentrating.

Is sleeping with earplugs bad for you?

While earplugs are generally safe, there are a few possible side effects that can occur with nighttime use, especially if you’re someone who uses them daily. The risks of sleeping with earplugs might include:

  • Earwax and ear infections. One possible risk of sleeping in earplugs is a buildup of earwax. While earwax is key to maintaining the health of your inner ears, a buildup of wax, or an ear infection, can cause a range of problems - from itching and pain to dizziness, nausea, hearing difficulties and tinnitus. If you do think you’re suffering from an infection or extra earwax, get in touch with your hearing care specialist as soon as possible to avoid long-term damage.
  • Hearing loss and tinnitusIf you regularly wear earplugs, over time earwax can be pushed back into your ear, causing it to become impacted, which can lead to temporary hearing loss and tinnitus. However, it’s important to note that while on their own earplugs can’t cause permanent tinnitus or hearing loss, using the same earplugs over and over again can result in bacteria build up and infection which, if left untreated, can cause permanent loss or damage
  • Other external risks. While there’s no doubt that undisturbed sleep is important, there might also be a number of other risks that could occur if you frequently sleep with earplugs. These can range from not hearing an emergency or danger, such as a fire, alarm or phone call, to missing a baby crying. But there are a number of things you can do to minimise these risks:
  • Clean or discard your earplugs every day: most earplugs are designed to be disposable for added safety, but some people will use one set of earplugs for an extended period of time. It’s a good idea to throw out your earplugs if you start to notice any sort of discolouration or odour - this is because wax will build up on the surface of the plug, making it easier to transfer bacteria from your hands to your ears. 
  • It’s also important to make sure your hands are washed and dried before using the earplugs, so as to avoid any infections or cross-contamination. As well as this, you should only ever insert earplugs into clean, dry ears, as any moisture can lead to an infection.
  • Ensure that you insert the plug correctly: to avoid any unnecessary issues, it’s important to make sure you’re properly inserting your earlug into your ear. Here’s how to insert expandable foam earplugs:
  • Roll the plug up into a cylinder
  • Gently pull open the ear up and away from your face. This makes for easier insertion
  • Hold it in place until it expands, taking care not to use force to push it into your ear​​

Bear in mind that other types of earplug, such as premoulded versions made from rubber or silicone, will not compact as easily, and should be gently inserted into the ear with the narrowest section first.

  • Don't ignore any changes to your hearing or ears: if you’ve noticed an increase in earwax, or any kind of stuffy feeling in your ears, it’s important that you don’t ignore it, and instead pop in to see a hearing specialist for a check up and to have your hearing tested.
  • Make any necessary adjustments: if you know you’re a light sleeper and require earplugs to sleep soundly, it might be a good idea to invest in additional support, such as an alarm designed for the deaf or hard of hearing, which vibrates if smoke is detected.

So, is it safe to wear earplugs while sleeping?

To put it simply, yes. If you take the proper precautions, such as frequent cleaning, earplugs are an affordable and safe way of improving the quality of your sleep and help to avoid sleep deprivation, which can be hugely detrimental to your mental and physical health, along with your daily life.
Are you concerned about your hearing? Book an appointment with a Boots Hearingcare store near you now to get your hearing checked by a professional.