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How to Use Earplugs for Better Sleep

Updated May 6, 2020

We’ve all been there before: You’re struggling to sleep, tossing and turning, trying to muffle out intrusive sounds. It might be the snoring coming from your partner on the other side of the bed, or a loud roommate playing video games at 2 a.m. No matter the source, noise can hinder your ability to sleep.

Maybe you’ve tried white noise machines to block out other sounds. But those can be expensive and offer no guarantee of successfully combating nightly noise. Instead of trying to fight fire with fire, it might be time to drown it out altogether.

Unlike headphones or soundproofing options, earplugs are an inexpensive solution. Their minimal size means that they won’t be uncomfortable in your ears while you’re trying to rest. They’re perfect for use at home, where you might be dealing with traffic noise from nearby streets or thin walls if you’re in a community living situation. They can also help you find quiet when you’re traveling, providing covetous quiet in hotels or on public transportation.

Earplugs are also a natural sleep aid, so you won’t have to worry about the side effects of sleep medication. A 2010 study showed that earplugs used in tandem with a sleeping mask resulted in more REM time, shorter REM latency, less disturbance, and elevated melatonin levels.

So how do you use earplugs and which ones are right for you?

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Earplug Styles

When it comes to earplugs, you have a few different options in terms of material and shape. Which one you choose depends on your needs. Most earplugs are made out of either foam, silicone, or cotton-encased wax.

Foam is typically the least expensive option but requires you to buy in bulk because each earplug is single-use. This expense can add up over time if you’re using earplugs every night. However, if you’re only using them for travel, this might be a viable option for you. Silicone is reusable and washable, so there’s no hygiene issue with using the same pair nightly.

earplugs in females earAlso, unlike the foam and cotton-encased wax styles, silicone earplugs typically sit on the outside of your ear canal, rather than being pushed inside. However, this can reduce the amount of sound that they’re capable of blocking.

Cotton-encased wax earplugs are typically more expensive and harder to find but may offer the best in terms of sound dampening. Like foam, cotton-encased wax plugs are single-use, so these should be used only if you’re dealing with particularly loud sounds.

Earplugs also come in different shapes. You might want to sample a few different styles to see what is most comfortable for your ear and the way you sleep.

Foam and cotton-encased wax plugs most commonly come in cylindrical, bell-shaped, or moldable options. These typically need to be inserted into your ear canal, so it’s best to find the shape that fits you most comfortably.

Silicone plugs are usually circular or round and come with moldable options to help make a secure seal over your ear.

You may want to read: Using Earplugs with Alarms 

Which Earplug Is Right for You?

There are several different brands on the market and you should consider your needs and priorities before making a purchase. Trying out a few different styles may initially be costly, but it can be worth the investment when it comes to a good night’s sleep.

Determining which size is right for your ear might involve some trial and error. If the earplug is not staying in your ear or you’re waking up with sore ears, it’s time to try a different shape or style.

You will also want to keep in mind how much noise you need to block out. Most earplugs should identify their noise reduction rating (NRR) on the packaging. This can be helpful when comparing brands. If the earplug style you have isn’t helping decrease ambient noise, move on to another one that has a higher NRR.

You should also consider whether you want reusable or single-use earplugs. If you want a more environmentally friendly option, opt for the reusable ones. You’ll also save money in the long term!

Speaking of money, with so many earplugs on the market, it’s easy to find comparable plugs for lower prices. Do a little research and find the best ones for you.

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You may want to read: Best Earplugs for Sleep: Restful Environment on a Budget

How to Use Earplugs

To avoid damaging your ear canal or eardrum, it’s best to correctly insert the plugs. You should always read the instructions that accompany the product, but you can also find online videos and tutorials, like this comprehensive walk-through from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For the style of earplugs that require insertion, you simply need to roll the plug to reduce its size, pull the top of your ear up and back to straighten your ear canal, then place most of the plug into your ear. Don’t use force or push it in too deeply, as you will need to leave enough material sticking out to safely grab and remove the earplug later. Remember, if you don’t get it right the first time, you can remove the earplug and try again.

ear plugs in a case

For moldable earplugs, press the plugs between your thumb and forefinger to flatten and warm the material, then press the pliable disk against your ear hole until a seal is formed. You’ll want to keep your hair out of the way to avoid getting it tangled in the plug material.

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Potential Drawbacks and How to Avoid

There are some potential cons when considering earplugs. Inserting earplugs into your ear canal can result in wax impact, which can impair hearing and cause ear infections. To avoid this, you should always clean out your ear before using any style of earplugs.

If this is your first time cleaning your ears, it’s probably best to get a professional ear cleaning from your doctor to avoid wax impacting. When performing home ear cleanings, you have the option of wax softeners or syringes.

There are many wax softeners on the market, but most of them contain mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, peroxide, hydrogen peroxide, or saline. If you have not consulted a doctor first, it is best to avoid softeners that contain peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, because they may worsen hearing issues that are not caused by wax impact.

While they might sound scary, ear syringes are safe when used correctly and can irrigate your ear canal. You can use an ear syringe in conjunction with a wax softener for best results.

Before using an earplug, you should wipe out your ear with a warm, damp cloth to remove excess wax. Doing this after a shower can be helpful, as the wax will have softened from the steam. You should never insert cotton swabs into your ears, as this can impact wax.

Using earplugs can also be too effective, potentially blocking out emergency sounds such as alarms. If you have children in the house, you may miss audible cues that there is trouble. You can reduce the likelihood of this by purchasing earplugs that allow for louder noises to permeate your ears. You should test this out before going to sleep. If you already have hearing issues, it may be best to avoid the use of earplugs if you cannot hear emergency signals while they are in your ears.

No matter your needs, there’s an earplug out there that’s right for you. Try different brands and styles, do your research, and finally enjoy that elusive perfect night’s rest!