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.

Why use earplugs

Sleep is essential for your health and wellbeing, and so it’s vital that you do all you can to ensure that you get sufficient sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, you’re more likely to suffer from a range of serious health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. With so many sleep aids on the market, you might be wondering why you should use earplugs. Earplugs aren’t just cheap and readily available to buy quickly and easily online; they’re also very good at helping you fall asleep easily and stay asleep throughout the night, ensuring that you wake up feeling rested and refreshed.

Different types of earplugs

There are different types of earplugs to choose from, including wax earplugs, foam earplugs, silicone earplugs and premolded earplugs. Here’s a rundown to help you choose the best earplugs for you…

Wax earplugs

Wax earplugs have been used for hundreds of years to help people sleep. They consist of a mixture of paraffin and wax which is covered in cotton. Soft and gentle on the skin, they provide a snug and comfortable fit. One of the benefits of wax earplugs over foam earplugs is that they stay clean longer and are easy to clean. This means that they usually last a long time before needing to be thrown away and replaced. Ohropax Reusable Wax/cotton Ear Plugs are one of the bestselling wax earplugs. With an impressive noise reduction rating of 23 dB (NRR23), they provide an effective seal against noise, helping you to get the sleep that you need. These wax earplugs fit comfortably into the ear canal and are easy to insert and remove. They’re also reusable and come with a free clear carry case, making them ideal for use on the go.

Foam

There are various types of foam used in earplugs, but by far the most common is polyurethane. This is the same material that’s used in memory foam mattresses. As such, it has the same qualities as memory foam, bouncing back so that it makes a tight seal in the ear. This ensures that sound is blocked effectively, helping you to get to sleep quickly and remain asleep for longer. One disadvantage to foam earplugs is that they don’t last very long. The porosity of the material means that bacteria grows after a certain amount of time. Having said this, because foam earplugs are so affordable, it’s not too much of an expense to buy multiple pairs. The Ear Buddy Premium Soft Foam Ear Plugs are a good buy. You get 50 pairs, and with a noise reduction rating of 32 decibels, they will do a great job of blocking out the noise that’s preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. Made from high quality polyurethane foam, Ear Buddy foam earplugs are non-abrasive and comfortable to insert and remove. Mack’s Ear Care Ultra Soft Foam Earplugs are another good choice. At under $9 for 50 pairs, they represent great value for money. They also have a noise reduction rating of 32 decibels, making them an effective noise blocker. These earplugs are made with very low pressure, slow release, Comfy Cush™ Comfort Foam.

Silicone

Silicone earplugs are similar to wax earplugs. They consist of small balls of supple material that must be softened in the hands. The earplugs can then be placed into the ear, making a tight seal so that sound can be blocked. What makes silicone earplugs slightly different to wax versions is that they bounce back somewhat, moulding to the inside of the ear more effectively. They can also be reused, and last a lot longer than wax earplugs. Some people say that silicone earplugs are sticky and that they get stuck in their hair, but not all have this property. Some are non-sticky, and these are the ones you should opt for. The PUAroom 27dB U Shape Noise Cancelling Ear Plugs have been professionally designed, with their unique U-shape allowing for easy insertion and removal. They contour to the shape of your ears, staying put for hours without pain or discomfort. Made from natural soft silicone material that is hypoallergenic and non-toxic, you won’t need to worry about experiencing itchiness or allergic reactions. QuietSound multiple-use earplugs are another popular option worth considering.

Premolded earplugs

Premolded earplugs are an option, however they come with some drawbacks. They tend to be dense and not very forgiving for shaping into the ear canal. This makes them difficult to wear, particularly for long periods. However, they do offer some of the highest quality noise reduction (they’re commonly worn by construction workers on building sites), and so sacrificing a snug fit might be worth it in some cases.

Do’s and don’ts of earplug use

Wearing earplugs can be a highly effective way of blocking out noise, allowing you to sleep more soundly. However, it’s important to use them correctly, or they may not do their job. What’s more, they could also cause injury if you don’t use them appropriately.

Do:

 

  • Remove them slowly. If earplugs fit snugly, a vacuum effect can occur, resulting in eardrum damage.
  • Make sure ears are dry before insertion. An ear infection could occur if water isn’t allowed to escape.

Don’t:

  • Push them too far into the ear canal. Only push them as far as is comfortable, else the eardrum could be ruptured.
  • Wear them every night. Only wear them when you really need to.
  • Forget to remove them. Always remember to take them out when you wake up.
  • Wear anyone else’s earplugs.

Earplug safety considerations

Ear infections

One of the most dangerous possible side effects of wearing ear plugs is infection. Although it isn’t common, it’s something that you need to consider, particularly if you’re planning on using ear plugs regularly. Earplugs can make a lovely home for bacteria if they’re not looked after properly. This is especially true for foam earplugs, as they’re porous in nature, which can make for a perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Putting earplugs which are infected with bacteria into your ears can lead to an ear infection, which as well as being painful, could cause lasting damage. Therefore, it’s important to clean your earplugs after every use, or alternatively choose single-use ear plugs. Earplugs should be cleaned with warm, soapy water and then fully dried before being inserted into your ears.

Compacted ear wax

Wearing earplugs on a regular basis can affect your ears’ ability to drain wax. This can lead to some potentially serious side effects. Compacted wax can result in you hearing ringing or fluttering sounds, and you may experience infection or hearing loss. As such, it makes sense to clean your ears more frequently than you usually would should you decide to wear earplugs regularly.

Blocking important sounds

Whilst it’s great to find a pair of earplugs that works so well that they block out the noises that are keeping you awake at night, sometimes they can work far too well. This means that you may not hear the sounds that you need to hear, such as a crying baby, or a smoke alarm. A smoke alarm is high pitched enough that it’s unlikely that you won’t hear it, however it is possible if you’re sleeping deeply and using good sound blocking earplugs. There is a possibility that you won’t wake up from the alarm. This is an important consideration to keep in mind when using ear plugs.

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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