Is a snoring spouse, barking dogs, traffic outside, or birds chirping at 4 am playing havoc on your ability to get a good night’s sleep? If so, you’re far from alone. “The research is pretty solid that noise can prevent people from getting a good night’s sleep,” says Ken Hume, a principal lecturer in human physiology at the Manchester Metropolitan University in England. What’s more, noises as quiet as 40 decibels – akin to the sounds between a quiet whisper from six feet and a normal conversation at three feet – can keep us from sleeping, reports the National Sleep Foundation.
When burdened by these sleep-depriving decibels, do your turn to earplugs to block out the noise? If so, you’re probably wondering if it is safe to sleep with earplugs. The answer is yes and no.
Risks of Sleeping with Earplugs
Just as a sleep mask helps to block out the light for sleeping, earplugs help to block out noise that can disrupt your sleep. However, there are risks to wearing earplugs.
- Impacted ear wax – On a daily basis, without you even being aware of it, earwax drains from your ears. However, if you wear earplugs frequently or for prolonged periods of time, you may impact your ear’s ability to drain its earwax properly, reports the Columbia University health resource Go Ask Alice.
- Ear infections – If ear wax is unable to drain properly and becomes impacted, there is a risk of an ear infections, which may involve significant pain. In addition, if you do not take proper care of your earplugs and clean them adequately and regularly, bacteria can grow on them. Foam earplugs are particularly prone to bacteria.
- Muffled hearing – The risk here is not being able to hear your smoke alarm, carbon monoxide detector alarm or the alarm on your alarm clock. It’s prudent to test your ability to hear these devices while wearing your earplugs for your own safety.
- Pushing the earplug too far into the ear canal. By design, earplugs are small. An earplug should never be inserted so far into your ear canal that you cannot grab it with your fingers.
- Removing earplugs too fast. Damage to an eardrum can occur if an earplug is removed too quickly. Earplug wearings are advised to gently and slowly remove earplugs, preferably with a twisting motion, which makes ear plug removal easier.
What You Can Do to Minimize These Risks
Being aware of the risks of sleeping with earplugs and taking steps for your protection can help minimize the chance of causing damage to your ears or your hearing.
First and foremost, it’s best to not make sleeping with earplugs on an every night habit if at all possible. By not wearing them every night, you’re giving your ears a chance to rest and drain built-up earwax. Second, it is vital to take proper care and maintenance of your ear plugs. If they are the type that can be reused, then it is important to clean them thoroughly after each use. If you have disposable earplugs, simply throw them away once you’ve used them once.
Alternatives to Earplugs
Should you decide the risks of sleeping with earplugs aren’t worth it to you, there are other things you can do to block out the noise that is impacting your sleep. For one, you can choose to wear a comfortable pair of soundproofed headphones. These are worn externally, so they are not as prone to bacterial growth that can affect the delicate parts of your ear. Second, white noise machines are a popular sleep gadget among many people to help them sleep. Hybrids of white noise machines are sound machines that play various sounds to sleep to including rain, waterfalls, or ocean waves. However, for many people simply running a fan does the trick. A fan not only helps to muffle the sounds you don’t want to hear, but has the added benefit of circulating air while you sleep. If none of these options sound appealing, consider getting a custom molded pair of earplugs that are designed to fit your ears perfectly and made out of gentle materials that are less inviting to bacteria growth.
When properly used, earplugs can help you obtain the restorative sleep you need to be at your best. But they are not without their risks. So, be careful when sleeping with earplugs or choose an alternative method to block out unwanted noise.
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