If a snoring spouse, barking dogs, traffic outside or birds chirping at 4 am affect your ability to get a good night’s sleep, you are 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 – Did you know that earwax drains from your ears on a daily basis? However, if you wear earplugs frequently or for prolonged periods of time, you may impact your ear’s ability to drain its earwax properly.
- 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. Gently and slowly remove earplugs, preferably with a twisting motion, which makes ear plug removal easier.
What You Can Do to Minimize The Risks
Learn about the risks of sleeping with earplugs and take steps to minimize the chance of causing damage to your ears or your hearing.
First and foremost, it’s best to not make sleeping with earplugs an every night habit. 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 Sleeping With Earplugs
Should you decide the risks of sleeping with earplugs are not worth it to you, there are other things you can do to block out the noise that is impacting your sleep:
- You can wear a comfortable pair of soundproof headphones. These are worn externally, so they are not as prone to bacterial growth that can affect the delicate parts of your ear.
- 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.
- Run a fan. 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 pair of earplugs that are designed to fit your ears perfectly. They are typically 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. However, be careful when sleeping with earplugs or choose an alternative method to block out unwanted noise.
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