Best Earplugs for Sleeping

Earplugs can help you sleep, particularly in noisy environments. Learn about the benefits and risks of sleeping with earplugs and see our top picks for earplugs you can buy.

By Sheryl Grassie

Earplugs screen out noise and help improve quality of sleep. They are small, portable, readily available, and inexpensive. There are a number of considerations including fit, cost, use, and hygiene when choosing the best earplugs for sleeping.

Can Earplugs Help with Sleep?

Most of us recognize the importance of sleep and the importance of really good sleep. Sleep can make or break the following day, enhance or compromise our functioning at work, affect our mood, and contribute to our overall health. Noise can dramatically impact both the quality and quantity of our sleep. If we reduce or eliminate noise, we often sleep deeper and for longer periods. Since it is nearly impossible to control your partner’s snoring, or to eliminate outside noises like loud neighbors or barking dogs, wearing earplugs is an easy solution to reduce noise and improve sleep.

Earplug Considerations

Earplugs are small, portable, readily available, and an economical way to block noise. You can purchase them inexpensively in bulk containers. They can be very helpful if you are trying to concentrate in a noisy environment, or they can help prevent hearing loss when working around loud noise or machinery.

Although people use earplugs for hearing protection, the most popular use of earplugs is to reduce noise while sleeping and to allow for better sleep while traveling. Some people don’t use earplugs at home but swear by them on the road. They work great in a college dorm and are essential for people who work non-traditional schedules and sleep during the day.

Earplugs are small apparatuses that come in varying shapes and are made from different materials; the three primary materials are foam, silicone, and wax. These malleable earbuds can be squeezed into small cylinders and inserted into the ear cavity, they will then naturally expand and mold to the shape of your ear. Earplugs are designed for a custom fit, to be comfortable, and to be worm throughout the night.

Durability is a consideration, but many earplugs are manufactured for single-use. With the advent of newer materials such as silicone, some earplugs are specifically intended to be reusable. Ear canals are sensitive areas and cleanliness is important, some people prefer the convenience of disposable earplugs, while others prefer to wash and reuse.

Noise Rating

Most common earplugs are not noise canceling, but noise reducing or noise defusing. Earplug effectiveness is measured by a noise reduction rating (NRR) that tells you how much noise an individual brand will block. The noises you hear on a day to day basis are generally within a certain decibel range, somewhere between 20 and 80. When you hear people talking, music on the radio, your alarm going off, they are all normally within this range.

Earplugs can reduce noise levels by 15-35 percent and are rated based on the amount of noise they block out. A number between 28-33 NRR is considered ideal; the higher the number, the better the noise reduction. So, for example, if you are trying to sleep in a room with people talking, and normal conversational speech has a decibel level of 40, earplugs rated at 30 NRR  would reduce the noise to 10 decibels, half that of a whisper (20 decibels) and would be barely audible. Your alarm, which might be around 70 decibels, would be reduced to 40, enough that you could still hear it. The goal is to find an earplug with a high noise reduction rating that is additionally comfortable and meets your needs.

Best Earplugs for Sleeping: Our Top Three Picks 

The following are three recommendations for earplugs that really do the job based on a variety of different criteria.

Best Value

Howard Leight by Honeywell, $19.40, 200 pairs
  • Less than $0.10 a pair
  • Laser lite
  • NRR 32
  • High visibility with bright colors
  • Single-use disposable foam
  • Size versatility
  • Closed-cell foam
  • T-Shape for easy insertion and removal
  • Good for side-sleeping

The Howard Leight is an economical, comfortable earplug with the added bonus of coming with an optional cord to prevent loss. For a modest investment of under $20, you get two hundred pairs. The bright colors make them easy to find in a purse or suitcase, and they mold to almost any ear size. Out of nearly 1,500 reviews on Amazon, close to 80% gave Howard Leight a five-star rating with comments like, “I have been through hundreds, maybe thousands of earplugs in my life… The short version is, these are the ones to get.” Consumers warn that “Other earplugs, including other ones that look the same, are not as good.”

Moderately Priced

Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone, 12 pairs, $12.99
  • Affordable at $1.08 a pair
  • Moldable silicone
  • Non-toxic
  • Waterproof for swimming
  • Relieves airplane pressure
  • Safe for use with ear tubes
  • Can be used after surgery
  • NRR 22
  • #1 Brand for snoring
  • #1 Brand for preventing ear infections

The Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone is a more moderately priced earplug that is silicone instead of foam. They are considered very hygienic and can be used for swimming. They would be great for kids with ear tubes or for people who are more susceptible to ear infections. Reviews are consistently strong and Mack’s comes up on a number of best-seller lists. Again almost 80% of reviewers on Amazon gave Mack’s a five-star rating with comments like, “Do not hesitate to buy these earplugs, they will improve your sleep immensely.”

Higher-End

Prideal Reusable Silicone, 2pack, $10.39
  • More expensive at $5.20 pair
  • NRR 32
  • Waterproof
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Washable
  • Comes with a case
  • Small and inconspicuous in the ear

The Prideal silicone earplugs are a higher-end item. They are intended to last and are reusable for a long period of time. They would be a good item for after surgery or if you need support with ears that are easily infected. If you care about how they look, these are a more flattering plug. They have the silicone advantage of being waterproof and safe for ear tubes. They rate slightly higher on Amazon than the other two; over 80% gave them five stars. Reviews ranged from “Best earplugs we have tried,” to “Best earplugs on the planet.” They also come with an optional cord that is not made of plastic which customers liked.

Tips for Buying

What should you look for when buying earplugs for sleeping?  A basic list of criteria includes:

  • Usage type: Are they just for sleeping, for sleeping and swimming, or for sleeping and ear tubes or surgery? What is their specific use?
  • Fit: What is comfortable for you? Is the brand you are considering for small ears or large ears? Do you prefer foam earplugs, silicone earplugs, or wax earplugs? You may have to try several to get a perfect fit.
  • Design: Do you care what they look like? Do you have a strong preference for shape or color? Do you want cords?
  • Need: Will you need them only for a trip or are you trying to eliminate your partner’s snoring on a daily basis?
  • Value: What do you want to spend? Are they reusable?
  • Hygiene: Are they hypoallergenic? Are they washable?

Finding the right earplugs for sleeping is all about finding one that meets your criteria. You may need to try more than one brand, but the ones we have recommended are preferred by a majority and seem to work for a wide range of ear shapes and sizes.

Cautions When Sleeping with Earplugs

  1. Although earplugs for sleeping do not pose any danger, there are some cautions worth noting. First, a bad fitting earplug can actually wake you from sleep, doing the opposite of what is intended. Good fit is essential! Make sure your earplugs fit well, don’t stick out, and allow you to sleep on your side if desired. If an earplug blocks noise but hurts when you turn on your side, you have defeated the purpose.
  2. The second area of caution is skin irritation. Some people are sensitive to some materials and you may not know that ahead of time. Check to make sure there is no redness or itching associated with your earplugs.
  3. The third area of concern is hygiene. Keeping earplugs clean by taking the time to wash with soap and water or use disinfectant wipes is crucial. Since there can be a temptation to reuse earplugs without washing them, which can lead to infection, many people prefer disposable varieties.

Summary

Earplugs are an easy and inexpensive way to potentially improve your sleep if noise is a problem. There is a large variety on the market, both reusable and disposable. They are mostly made of foam, silicone, or wax and are small and easy to transport for travel. They mitigate noise but do not completely block it. A noise reduction rating is applied to different brands with an ideal score between 28-33. Earplugs pose no real health risk if kept clean, and can greatly improve your quality of sleep.


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