How to Sleep with Ear Plugs


I’ve written a lot about how to get a better sleep, and one of the top recommendations is always to get a good pair of ear plugs. But with potential discomfort, ear infections (gasp!), and hassle – they are not without their problems.

Sleeping well with ear plugs is mostly about having the right type. Wax molded plugs are the best for blocking sound but also allow you to sleep on your side. Make sure to keep them clean with quick washes every other day, and if using foam, replace every 2 -3 days.

Health Risks – how bad are we talking?

Disclaimer: I’m about to tell you all about the possible bad side of ear plugs – but don’t worry. I’ve written these to make you aware of them, not to scare you off.

A lot of people a scared of using ear plugs overnight. There is a bit of truth to it – ear plugs can cause ear infections and even tinnitus – but only if you don’t use them properly.

One issue is when an ear plug sits way to deep in your ear. It creates a blockage of ear wax, which can cause hearing loss or even tinnitus.

Rule 1: Don’t ram anything too far into your ear.

Next, is that bacteria can build up on ear plugs themselves – especially foam ones. Neglect to wash them or put them in with dirty hands, and you’re asking for trouble.

Rule 2: Use clean ear plugs.

Follow both of those rules and you’ll be absolutely fine. Do be careful of sleeping on your side pushing hard ear plugs further in, though.

But here’s the deal – while there is some slight risk here, we are missing out on a much bigger deal. Which is the risk of getting bad sleep. Not to sound like Fox News, but consistent lack of sleep has been proven to increase the likelihood of high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, heart attacks.. the list goes on. Personally I’ll take a little ear wax hassle over those horrors any day!

If you’re worried about using ear plugs in a bad way, just follow these steps:

  1. Use clean earplugs. If you’re using foam, make sure they’re no more than 2-3 days old (and haven’t been anywhere unclean). If you’re using wax or silicone, give them a quick rinse. This isn’t life or death, but if you’ve had infections in the past or are particularly worried, it’s worth keeping them clean daily.
  2. Warm them up in your hands. Roll them around to warm them up and soften them, making them easier to apply.
  3. Pull up your earWe want to maximize the landing zone – tug up on your ear with one hand.
  4. Insert until you can feel them working. Don’t ram them in, but also don’t be scared to put them in firmly unti your hearing is getting suppressed. If they need to expand, hold them for a moment to let them do so.
  5. Enjoy a better night’s sleep. Sweet dreams!

Types of Ear Plugs

If you’re reading this because you ear plugs seem to be making no difference – it may just be the type. There’s four different types of ear plugs, generally increasing in effectiveness. Here’s a quick rundown:

  1. Foam. These are the super cheap, super replaceable squishy foam ear plugs. They’re very light, very porous, and very not good at blocking sound. They definitely work to a certain degree, but they’re not going to change your life.
  2. Silicone. Much tougher and harder than foam, silicone plugs are a good upgrade. They’re much better at blocking sound, and they’re reusable. However, they’re also almost rock hard. Super uncomfortable to try sleeping on your side with – they’re not the best option for our goal here. (You can get softer versions, but honestly this loses some of the sound blocking and isn’t really worth it).
  3. Wax. If you’re really wanting to block out the world and sleep well, these are the babies to go for. They mold to the size of your ear – some of them doing it so well that they’re waterproof! They’re not too hard and fit snugly within your ear, so sleeping on your side isn’t an issue.
  4. Custom. While I consider myself a light sleeper, if you can get woken up by the sound of a mouse sneezing on Christmas Eve, you might want to consider talking to your doctor. There are some crazy custom fitted options out there, some of which need to come with warnings that you may not be able to hear your fire alarm with them in.

Now, wax earplugs, and custom earplugs especially, can be a bit more expensive. My comment on that is to remember just how important sleep is. Good sleep is one of the most precious things on earth – not just to feel good, but for countless health benefits. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more worth the money than something that will really help you sleep better.

Alternative Options

If normal ear plugs aren’t your thing, there are a few other options out there for you.

The main one I’d like to recommend is audiobooks. Instead of blocking sound, replace it with a soothing voice reading you some good fiction. Sometimes it’s not the noise that gets to us, it’s being in our own head. For this, I’ve found no better solution that to lie in the dark and tune in to someone reading a book. It won’t take long before your thoughts are replaced by a gentle drifting to sleep without worry.

Obviously noise cancelling headphones are key, but typically these aren’t the most comfortable for sleeping. Instead, you can actually get an eye mask with built in headphones – operating on bluetooth. This gives you everything in one, with wireless sound meaning there’s no wired complications in bed with you.

Best Positions to Sleep with Ear Plugs

Everyone has their own way of sleeping, but all of us want to be able to do it without being troubled by uncomfortable ear plugs. Obviously, the best way to sleep with ear plugs is like a zombie, arms crossed and flat on your back. But I can bet that’s not how you typically drift off. (Though, some people really do sleep like that!)

Realistically, most of us love to sleep on our side – which pretty much requires that you’ve got a good set of wax or custom molded ear plugs.

Foam can work just because it’s easy enough to crush down when you lie on it, but if you’ve tried this before we both know what happens. The second your head comes back up, the foam ear plug expands in a weird way and falls out. If you’ve used them too, you’ll know the trials of constantly finding foam ear plugs in your bed..

Still having trouble sleeping?

If you just can’t get comfortable with any form of ear plugs, you might need to get creative. First, make sure you’re sleeping environment and routine are on point. I’m busy writing plenty of articles on how to perfect those, but basically try to make sure your room is cool, dark, and as quiet as possible. (I know, it’s sometimes not at all possible to get all three of those things, but just do what you can).

Then I’d suggest replacing ear plugs is a white noise generator. The idea is that instead of listening to outside noises which are always changing volume and frequency, forcing you to pay attention to them, you instead create a sound that is constant and reliable. This is so much easier for your brain to ‘fade out’ and let you relax.

You can get great white noise generators online, or even just play them from your laptop, computer, or even mobile phone. Just have a google for free white noise generators – if you’re after a recommendation then Noisli is a great place to start.

While white noise isn’t as effective as silence, it’s a lot better than feeling like you’re trying to sleep with a weird object in your ear. Some people actually grow to absolutely prefer their white noise of choice, and swear they get a much better sleep with it than even in silence.

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