If it’s louder than a peaceful country meadow in your bedroom, you’re violating World Health Organization standards! Don’t worry. You won’t be dragged away to a secret dungeon at their HQ in Switzerland, but according to their research, you could be shortening your life.
30 decibels — same as a quiet rural area — that’s the WHO’s recommended noise level for quality sleep. Disposable earplugs, most of which have a noise reduction score of 30 decibels or more, can transform your sound environment into the serene setting you need for sleep.
Let’s talk about the five main types of earplugs that people search for:
Reusable Earplugs — not recommended!
Noise-Cancelling Earplugs — don’t exist!
We’re going to explain the pros and cons of all these types, including an estimated annual cost of the products to help you see how many coffee runs you’ll have to skip to pay for them.
Although, if these earplugs block out the sound of the snorer next to you, you’ll sleep better and maybe you won’t need those coffee runs!
First, one important piece of background info. Most earplugs are designed for people dealing with loud daytime noises, like folks driving heavy machinery. Comfort isn’t the main concern. Some earplugs that are effective for daytime use, would be downright impossible to wear for a good sleep at night.
Disposable earplugs are made from inexpensive material like foam or silicone.
Made from an early form of memory foam, disposable earplugs expand in your ear after insertion. They wall off your ear canal like boulders in front of a cave entrance.
These are the cheapest per-use earplugs, but most are recommended for one-time use only. You can reuse them, but there’s an inherent risk of infection anytime you reuse medical supplies. Use your best judgment.
3M E-A-R Classic Uncorded Earplugs
These are the original foam earplugs. They’re just plugs of foam, not tapered like newer versions, and they are very inexpensive.
Noise Reduction Rating: 29 decibels
Estimated Annual Cost: $47.45 (13 cents cost per pair, new pair every day)
HEAROS Xtreme Foam Earplugs
Hearos touts their super-soft polyurethane foam as the softest available. The advanced material comes with a higher price, though.
Noise Reduction Rating: 32 decibels
Estimated Annual Cost: $197.10 (27 cents cost per pair, new pair every day)
Howard Leight by Honeywell Laser Lite High Visibility Disposable Foam Earplugs
These plugs are dyed bright colors so they’re visible at construction sites. They feature a tapered design meant to fit smaller ears and expand into larger ones.
Noise Reduction Rating: 32 decibels
Estimated Annual Cost: $36.50 (10 cents cost per plug, new pair every day)
Made from moldable silicone, silicone disposable earplugs can be manipulated inside your ear to match the entrance to your ear canal.
They cost 3 to 4 times more than foam disposable earplugs, and are reusable multiple times as long as you keep them relatively clean. Eventually though, the silicone will lose its spring and no longer conform to your ear.
Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs
These moldable silicone earplugs provide safe, non-toxic, non-allergenic protection to help you block out outside noise and nearby snorers. They claim: “Saving marriages since 1962!”
Noise Reduction Rating: 32 decibels
Estimated Annual Cost: $48.18 (66 cents cost per pair, new pair every 5 days)
Note: Some retailers also sell store-brand silicone earplugs, including CVS.
The first moldable earplugs were made from wax. Most folks prefer foam or silicone because they are easier to use. The wax kind needs to be held in your hands so it will “melt” slightly before being inserted in your ear. It’s a little extra work, but many people swear by them.
Ohropax Wax Ear Plugs
The manufacturer says you can use these for as long as they stay clean, but “clean” is a relative concept. We assume one replacement per week, though some people say they make a pair go as long as a few months.
Noise Reduction Rating: None listed
Estimated Annual Cost: $53.05 ($1.02 cost per pair, 1 pair per week)
We don’t recommend reusable earplugs for the simple fact that they aren’t comfortable for nighttime use. They are reusable because you don’t have to touch them with your grubby hands to insert them into your ear. Instead there’s a stem or other insertion device. This reduces the risk of infection.
The stem causes no problems when you’re standing. If you happen to lay your head down, you’ll jostle the stem which will hurt, or the plugs will fall out, negating the purpose.
Lots of people search for noise-cancelling earplugs, and hope to find something similar to their noise-cancelling headphones. Sadly, the world’s technologists have thus far failed to shrink noise-cancelling technology to earplug size.
Some companies tout their earplugs as “noise-cancelling” but it is true only in the sense that they block out noise. These aren’t using the same technology as the noise-cancelling headphones made by Sony and Bose.
However, you can use what we’ll call “noise-replacement” earplugs which do use Bluetooth technology. That info is coming up next.
The audio wizards at Bose developed Bluetooth earplugs that are especially for sleeping. They aren’t noise-cancelling. Bose calls them “noise-making” — they come preloaded with soothing sounds to mask unwanted noises around you. They are designed with a “pliable fin that conforms to the upper ridge of your ear” and keeps them in place during sleep.
Like most Bose products — not cheap!
At time of writing, the cost for each pair of earbuds was $249.99. That’s a lot all at once, but if you were to use them for five years, the price compares favorably with the cost of even the cheapest disposable earplugs.
You may be wondering at this point — why not just use the earbuds that connect with my phone as nighttime noise replacers? Unless you are the world’s most motionless sleeper, they will fall out. Or, when you roll on your side, they’ll poke and wake you, defeating the whole purpose.
There are existing companies that make custom earplugs which they claim, will conform to the unique architecture of your ear. However, this service requires having your ear measured by an expert, and footing the expense of custom work. Also, there’s no guarantee you’ll like the fit. We would suggest this option only as a last resort.
Do Earplugs Work?
Do earplugs reduce sound? Yes! Manufacturers have to prove it to put the noise reduction ratings on their products. If the question is, “Do they help you sleep?” There’s not a ton of evidence out there because very few studies have been done.
Science mainly researches how earplugs prevent hearing loss — like for heavy metal musicians and construction workers — rather than whether they improve sleep. One study did show that earplug use improved sleep among people whose partners snored.
In theory, reduced noise should lead to deeper sleep, but will the fact of having something in your ear make it harder for you to sleep? That’s a question only you can answer.
Will Earplugs Damage My Eardrums?
- The ear canal is twice as long as the typical earplug, so the earplug couldn’t reach without a big push.
- As the ear canal is less a straight Great Plains rural road, and more of a winding Rocky Mountain one, it’s unlikely that a non-sentient earplug could burrow its way to the eardrum.
TLDR: You’d have to try to hurt your eardrum with an earplug, and even then, you probably wouldn’t.
Can Earplugs Give Me an Ear Infection?
This is gonna have to be a “Yes, but” answer. Apologies.
Yes, but only if you are careless. Clean earplugs are not going to give you an ear infection, but when you insert disposable earplugs, you are touching them with your hands. So, if you say, decide to put them in right after cleaning up a mess the cat made, then yeah, there’s an infection risk.
If you choose to use disposable earplugs more than once, you’re also risking infection. As long as they stay clean, using disposable earplugs two nights in a row is not a massive health threat, but it’s a risk. The more you reuse them, the bigger the risk.
“Use common sense,” says the CDC which is good advice not just for earplug use, but in all facets of existence.
Earplugs are a Low-Risk Way to Improve Sleep
When you’re trying out any new health-improvement method, two questions ought to come to mind:
1) Will this cost a lot of money?
2) Does it have serious side effects?
Earplugs don’t cost very much and aren’t dangerous when used correctly. If you sleep in a noisy place or near a noisy person, buy a pack and see if they help. You don’t have much to lose. Of course, the problem could also be with your mattress or the rest of your comfort tech. If so, we’ve got science-backed answers for that too.