Is it Safe to Sleep with Earplugs?

We all know that earplugs are one of the best solutions for blocking out harmful or unwanted noise. Many of us use them in our day to day lives, especially if we work with heavy machinery or in noisy environments.

In our fast-paced and noisy lives, more and more people have been turning to earplugs as a way to help them secure a good night’s sleep. Some people, especially those who live in big cities, swear by them.

But are there any dangers to this sort of prolonged use?

What do the experts say?

There is research to support earplugs as an affordable and safe way to improve sleep quality.
In some cases, the use of earplugs and eye masks has been shown to increase REM sleep. Rapid eye movement, or REM sleep is the deepest form of sleep and it’s vital for supporting our body’s important internal processes, including memory consolidation.

The research also suggests that earplugs could increase melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate and prepare the body for the sleep-state. It’s been shown to help with sleep in noisy environments in prior studies.

Are there any risks?

The evidence suggests that earplugs might be a solution for the sleepless. But there is little information on how frequent, daily use of earplugs could affect a person’s ears.

Earplugs are safe to use in general, but not designed to be inserted and worn for extended periods of time, like sleeping. There are some possible risks of the use of earplugs as a sleep aid which are still being investigated by researchers and audiologists.

One possible risk is the build-up of ear wax, which can cause hearing difficulties, dizziness and in some cases tinnitus. While earwax maintains the good health of the ear canal, repeated use of earplugs could compact the wax.

It’s also possible that regular use of foam earplugs could cause ear infections. Bacteria can build up both in the ear wax and on the surface of the earplug. To avoid a bacterial infection, ensure you replace your earplugs regularly. As soon as they have begun to discolour, throw them out and replace them with a fresh pair.

There are also custom-made silicone ear plugs available. These are not only more comfortable to wear, but have less chance of harbouring infectious bacteria as silicone is easier to care for an clean. One pair of silicone ear plugs can last for a few years.

Can it help with tinnitus?

Earplugs are not a catch-all sleep aid for everyone. Those who suffer from tinnitus are advised to limit their use of earplugs as much as possible. While they’re always needed to protect, you’re hearing when you’re exposed to loud sounds, they should be avoided at other times.

Earplugs can actually worsen the symptoms of tinnitus sufferers, increasing their perception of the ringing by blocking out other environmental sounds.

Apps that produce a constant white noise like waves, rain, or leaving your fan or air conditioner running are better alternatives to help get a better night’s sleep with tinnitus.

If you’ve been sleeping with earplugs regularly and noticed any irritation, discomfort or loss of hearing, we’re here to help. At the Art of Hearing, we know that seeing you is the key to better hearing. Speak with one of our friendly experts online, or stop by for a chat in person at one of our five Perth locations.