It’s likely that we humans have been using some version of earplugs in one fashion or another since early man walked the earth, even if it was only our own fingers. Even babies can be seen covering their ears when exposed to loud noise, showing that protecting our ears from high levels of sound is instinctive.
While ancient people may have carved earplugs out of wood and fashioned them from other available materials, they weren’t marketed for sale until the end of the 19th century. Wax earplugs were being used as early as 1907, but it was the military that advanced ear protection to protect the hearing of troops during training and battle.
Today, earplugs are used for many reasons, including for silence during sleep, for protection against loud noises, and to enhance both relaxation and concentration.
Sound-Sleeping with Earplugs
If you sleep with a partner who snores, earplugs can be the solution to retaining a happy sleeping arrangement. Some of the best earplugs for sleeping can reduce sound by 25 decibels or more, creating a quieter environment for sleeping, even if external noises continue. According to sleep specialists, periodically awakening during the night can have lasting effects on sleep quality. Even if you return to sleep fairly quickly, the sleep cycle was disrupted and must begin again. If this happens repeatedly, it can lead to a sleep deficit over time.
For sleeping, earplugs can be either vented or non-vented. While vented earplugs can help for air travel to equalize pressure, either type can be used safely and comfortably for sleeping. Earplugs for sleeping can be made of silicone, foam, or wax—whichever you find most comfortable.
Besides blocking noise from a snoring or coughing partner, earplugs for sleeping can help block out traffic sounds, construction noises, and other loud sounds that may prevent or disrupt the sleep environment.
Earplugs are also helpful for travel, not only to help with ear pressure, but also to block out noise for either sleeping or reading during flights.
Earplugs for Relaxation
Many people who meditate find earplugs to be helpful, and in some situations they may even be completely necessary in order to maintain concentration and inner focus. If your neighbor is playing loud music, neighborhood dogs are barking, a neighbor is mowing his lawn, loud traffic sounds—whatever the distraction, using earplugs can effectively block out distracting external noise and help you to build focus.
Ideally, once you are a meditation guru, your ability to focus on your breathing will be so powerful that you will be able to block out distracting noise all on your own. However, until you get to that point, it’s okay to seek tools to help find your tranquility.
Earplugs can also be used for reading or studying. Noisy environments such as coffee shops, dorm rooms, or even your own home if it’s filled with noisy family members, can make concentration difficult. Constant noisy distractions can seriously reduce your comprehension and your productivity.
How to Choose Earplugs
Foam earplugs are probably the least expensive option in earplugs. They are soft, effective, and disposable, making them highly convenient and hygienic.
Moldable earplugs of wax or silicone are preferred by some for increased comfort by reducing the feeling of pressure in the ear canal which expandable foam earplugs can cause. Moldable earplugs may be more comfortable than foam, but they provide slightly less sound protection. There are companies that offer custom-made molded earplugs by making an imprint of your ear canal. Soft, molded earplugs also move with the ear canal as you talk or chew and continue to provide sound protection. These are arguably the most comfortable choice in ear protection and may be worth the effort and added expense if you plan to use them often.
High Fidelity Earplugs for Concerts
Concerts can be fun, and a great way to unwind and have a good time. However, frequent exposure to the noise levels found at concerts can cause significant damage to hearing. In fact, any time you are left with ringing ears after noise exposure, it’s a sign that some damage has occurred. Prolonged loud noise damages the tiny hairs in the ear that vibrate to bring you sound by transferring sound messages to the brain. When these tiny hairs are destroyed, they don’t grow back, and hearing loss is permanent.
In order to fully relax and enjoy a great concert, you shouldn’t have to worry about hearing damage. The best earplugs can offer not only noise level reduction, but some brands offer high fidelity earplugs that allow clear, precise sound quality with the full range of acoustics. While foam and silicone earplugs alone will only muffle sound, the best earplugs for sound fidelity lowers the decibels to a safe level, while still perfectly transferring high-quality sound range. You can fully enjoy the music without fear of hearing damage.
Are Earplugs Safe?
Earplugs are considered safe for use for both sleeping and hearing protection, and side effects are few and rare. Earplugs can cause an ear infection if bacteria is present on the plugs. If you aren’t using disposable earplugs, make sure to keep your earplugs clean to prevent ear infection.
Earplugs may also cause wax buildup by pushing ear wax back into the ear canal. If you frequently use earplugs for sleeping, it can prevent the ear wax from progressing through the ear canal to the surface in a natural way, further increasing the chance of wax buildup. If you use earplugs on a regular basis, have your doctor check for wax buildup during your regular checkups.
Considering the relatively minor risks of side effects from earplugs, the benefits received from increased relaxation, focus, safe music enjoyment, and, most of all, sleep, are more than worthwhile. Studies have shown that regular use of earplugs for sleeping can reduce the need for sleep medications and result in deeper sleep with a lower number of night time awakenings, making them a healthier option for sleep.
Before choosing earplugs, consider what results you want from them, how you plan to use them, and which material you are most comfortable with. It’s also important to know the decibel reduction quality, and whether or not they still allow the full fidelity range.