Image: Is it bad to sleep with earplugs

According to a 2014 study in Sleep Science, environmental noise is the top cause of sleep disturbances. This is partly why people resort to using earplugs in their sleep.

Aside from protecting the ears from excessively loud sounds, many people also use them during sleep either because they’re light sleepers or they live in a noisy area.

They’re often promoted, however, as a way to prevent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). For instance, the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs provided by 3M to the military for years was supposed to protect soldiers from loud combat sounds, including gunfire, bombs, and tanks, among others.

However, an investigation by the Department of Justice revealed that the military-grade earplugs were defective and put many soldiers at risk for permanent hearing impairment and loss. This forced many soldiers and veterans to file a 3M earplug lawsuit.

In many cases, however, earplugs may help you drift off to dreamland. But could there possibly be times when they may be bad for your ears as well? Continue reading the article to find out.

What are the side effects?

Earplugs are safe to use in general. However, little is actually known about the length of time in which you could use earplugs without potentially harming your ears.

But experiencing side effects is possible, especially if you use them regularly.

One potential side effect is a buildup of earwax. Your ear canal naturally pushes out earwax. However, if an earplug is blocking the way, it can’t discard the wax. In fact, over time, earplugs can even push earwax back into your ear and cause a buildup.

Moreover, according to the 2017 clinical practice guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, earplugs can stimulate the ceruminous glands, which make the cerumen, more commonly known as ear wax.

This can result in excessive wax production. A process that researchers call, “mechanical milking.”

Unfortunately, a buildup of earwax can cause several problems, including:

  • cough
  • dizziness
  • reduced hearing
  • itching and discomfort in the ear
  • temporary hearing loss
  • tinnitus or ringing in the ears
  • a sensation of fullness in your ears

Earplugs can also cause ear infections. And while they can result from an earwax buildup, bacteria that have grown on earplugs can also cause them. Ear infection can also be painful. If left untreated, it can also lead to long-term complications, like hearing loss, among others.

What are the best earplugs for sleeping?

When it comes to choosing the best earplugs to help you achieve a good night’s sleep, there can be tons of options out there.

However, in narrowing down your options, there are two main things to look out for:

  • softness and flexibility
  • noise reduction rating (NRR)

You may want something soft and flexible to comfortably wear while you’re sleeping. In this case, foam earplugs are your best option for sleeping. In using foam earplugs, you just have to roll them in a cylindrical shape between your fingers, insert them into your ear canal, where they will expand so that they perfectly fit your size.

In most cases, foam earplugs are also the cheapest option. However, they’re made out of a porous material, which makes them more susceptible to bacteria. Therefore, you’ll need to replace them often.

On the other hand, noise reduction rating (NRR) is the level of measurement used to determine the level of sound that earplugs can protect against. The NRR should be listed on the packaging of the earplugs you’ll be purchasing. The higher the NRR, the more background noise the plugs will be able to block.

For instance, most earplugs offer a maximum sound reduction of 33 decibels. This means these products will totally silence a whisper, which is around 30 decibels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, if you notice that your earplugs slip out, you might want to talk to your doctor about custom earplugs. A custom earplug is a specially made earplug created by making a mold of your ears. Skilled professionals such as trained audiologists or hearing aid dispensers will take impressions of your ear. Then, they’ll send the samples to a laboratory where your custom earplugs will be made.


Earplugs can help improve sleep quality. And we know how important getting good sleep is to our overall health.

Getting enough sleep has a wide array of health benefits. Inadequate sleep could increase one’s risk of developing chronic health problems, including:

  • depression
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • obesity

Earplug Alternatives

Many people are light sleepers who struggle with sleeping in a noisy area that they need to cancel outside noises to have a better quality of sleep. However, not everyone’s a fan of earplugs.

Not everyone can tolerate having these devices up to their ear canals during the night. Aside from its side effects, this is also a reason why people may start looking for alternatives to earplugs.

If you’re one of these people, you might want to try one of these earplug alternatives:

  • white noise machine
  • removing disruptions
  • try soundproof curtains

White noise machines produce a waterfall-like sound that helps conceal some disturbing background noise. When listening to this sound, you don’t hear outside noises anymore, as your mind ignores any other sounds.

Therefore, it can help your brain relax and let you have a peaceful sleep. A small 2016 study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences revealed that exposure to white noise improved sleep quality and duration in patients in a coronary care unit.

On the other hand, removing disruptions or eliminating the source of noise is also an alternative. You can try having noisy appliances repaired or replaced. And if you have a snoring partner, you can have them evaluated for sleep apnea under the guidance of a sleep specialist.

Lastly, according to the Sleep Foundation, soundproof curtains and carpets may absorb sound better than blinds and wood floors.

The Bottom Line

In general, earplugs are a safe way of getting more good sleep. However, using earplugs regularly during sleep can result in earwax buildup or an ear infection.

Still, the health effects of sleep deprivation can be more severe. Sleep deprivation can cause symptoms including drowsiness, an increased risk of infection, and problems concentrating, among others.

Ultimately, inadequate sleep can cause chronic health conditions that can affect one’s quality of life. Using earplugs may be beneficial for light sleepers who are having difficulties drifting off to dreamland because of the noise in their environment.

What You Can Do

For light sleepers, earplugs can greatly improve their quality of sleep. But these devices have also long been marketed as a way to prevent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and to protect the ears from noise trauma.

In some instances, however, no matter how careful we are, bad things happen. Just like in the case of our soldiers and veterans who didn’t deserve the hearing problems they suffered after using 3M’s defective military earplugs.

If you or a loved one are among the war heroes who had to deal with tinnitus or hearing loss after using a defective 3M military combat earplug, know that you’re not alone. We’re here to help you.

Contact us today and we will help you pursue legal action by filing a 3M earplug lawsuit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.