5 Min

Is Wearing Earplugs at Night Causing You Pain?

Whether you use earplugs every night or occasionally this article will help you understand relationship between earplugs and ear pain!

Nicole Brener
Author:
Nicole Brener
Is Wearing Earplugs at Night Causing You Pain?
Nicole Brener
Nicole Brener

Copywriter based in Miami, FL. Leads copywriting workshops and mentors women entrepreneurs at the Idea Center of Miami Dade College.

Sleep is essential for health, and many of us go to great lengths to ensure a good night's rest. For some, this involves using earplugs to drown out disruptive noises or alleviate tinnitus symptoms. But what if the very earplugs intended to enhance our sleep end up causing discomfort and pain? 

Whether you use earplugs every night to improve your sleep quality or occasionally when traveling in public spaces such as trains or planes, we’re breaking down the benefits and risks of regularly sleeping with earplugs.

Benefits of Sleeping with Earplugs

For some, sleeping with earplugs can have several benefits, including:

  • Improved sleep quality and duration
  • Blocking out sound while sleeping (such as snoring partners or buzzing sounds from tinnitus)
  • Decreasing the need for sleep medication

Although sleeping with earplugs is considered generally safe, there are some potential side effects, such as:

  • Earwax buildup
  • Discomfort 
  • Pressure buildup

These side effects, especially earwax buildup, can lead to complications such as ear pressure, ear pain, tinnitus, temporary hearing loss, and possible infections. If you've decided to incorporate earplugs into your sleep routine, keeping good ear hygiene, occasionally taking breaks from wearing earplugs for sleep, and correctly inserting them can help mitigate these issues. 

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Choosing the Right Earplugs for Comfortable Sleep

When selecting earplugs, don’t overlook factors like material, size, and shape. There are even earplugs designed specifically for sleep, and although everyone’s needs are different, here are some tips to help you find the right ones:

What’s the best type of earplugs for sleeping?

  • Silicone or wax-based earplugs are softer and more comfortable for extended use. 
  • Foam earplugs are the most inexpensive option but must be replaced often due to their porous material, making them a breeding ground for bacteria. 

Additional factors to consider:

Noise Reduction Rating (NRR): The NRR measures how much sound the earplugs can block. Look for earplugs with a high NRR if you need significant noise reduction. 

Noise Type: Some earplugs are better at blocking low-frequency sounds, while others are more effective against high-pitched noises. Choose earplugs that address the types of noise disturbances you commonly experience.

Ease of Insertion and Removal: Consider how easy inserting and removing the earplugs is. Some people prefer roll-down foam earplugs that expand in the ear canal, while others may find pre-moulded or flanged earplugs easier to handle.

Durability: If you plan to use earplugs regularly, consider their durability and whether they are designed for multiple uses. Some earplugs are disposable, while others can be cleaned and reused.

Hygiene: If you reuse earplugs, ensure they are easy to clean. Some earplugs come with carrying cases or cleaning solutions for maintaining hygiene.

Why Earplugs Might Hurt: Common Reasons

Wrong Size or Type of Earplugs

One size does not fit all, especially when it comes to earplugs. Choosing the wrong size or type can lead to discomfort. Foam earplugs, for example, may expand too much, causing pressure and pain. Silicone or wax-based earplugs might be a better alternative for sensitive ears

Improper Insertion Techniques

Even the best earplugs can cause discomfort if not inserted correctly. Pushing them in too far (very common!) or not creating a proper seal can lead to pain and irritation. Following proper techniques for inserting earplugs is crucial to ensure a snug fit without causing harm. 

Ear Infections or Sensitivity

People prone to ear infections or those with heightened sensitivity in their ear canals may find traditional earplugs exacerbate discomfort. 

If you’re having trouble adjusting to earplugs or experiencing pain or discomfort, contact a healthcare professional who can recommend specialized ear protection or suggest gentler alternatives.

Tips and Techniques for Inserting Earplugs

  • Ensure your ears are clean and dry before inserting earplugs for optimal comfort. Earwax or moisture can affect the fit and comfort.
  • For foam earplugs, roll them between your fingers to compress, pull your ear upward to straighten the ear canal, and hold the earplug in place until it expands. This helps create a proper seal without causing pressure.
  • Choose earplugs that match the size and shape of your ear canal and feel comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Comfort is crucial for a good night's sleep. If they fit comfortably, you are more likely to sleep better. Consider your most common sleep position when choosing. 
  • Experiment with different sizes and styles to find the ones that provide a snug fit without causing pressure or pain.

Can earplugs cause an ear infection?

One common concern is whether earplugs can lead to ear infections. While rare, improper use or dirty earplugs can potentially introduce bacteria into the ear canal. To minimize this risk, it's important to regularly clean earplugs and give your ears a break from continuous use. If you find sleeping hard without earplugs, you can try white noise machines to mask disruptive sounds.

Alternatives to Earplugs for a Peaceful Night's Sleep

If you find sleeping with earplugs uncomfortable, you may explore other sleep-supporting alternatives, such as blocking out sound with other devices and relaxation techniques. Here are additional alternatives to help you find quiet at night and drift to sleep more easily.

  • White noise machines
  • Bedside fans
  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Ear muffs
  • Practicing relaxation and meditation
  • Smartphone apps with calming sounds

Experimenting with different alternatives can help you discover the most effective solution for a peaceful night's sleep without using traditional earplugs.

Conclusion

Earplugs are an easy, affordable, and effective way to block out sounds that could otherwise interfere with your sleep, like traffic noise or your partner’s snoring. While there are many options in the market, not all earplugs are designed for sleep. Making informed choices regarding earplugs' type, fit, and maintenance can ultimately contribute to a restful night's sleep without compromising ear health. 

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