Are you using earplugs to block out noise while you sleep but struggle because they cause you pain? Wondering if there are other ways to block out noise and get more rest?
Only a couple of years ago, I struggled with that too. I lived in an apartment with thin walls. I couldn’t fall asleep each night because of my neighbors’ noises. I could hear them talking through the wall. My upstairs neighbor’s stomping was driving me crazy too.
So, I started blocking out noise with earplugs. Unfortunately, it didn’t prove a viable solution.
Eventually, my earplugs were causing such intense pain that I couldn’t sleep, and I also had to rush to the doctor.
These experiences made me determined to find ways to block out noise without earplugs. And over the next few months, I discovered and tested 7 of the best solutions to do so.
In this article, I’ll tell you what these solutions are — so you can save yourself any future trips to an ENT specialist.
But let’s start at the beginning…
Why You Shouldn’t Sleep With Earplugs On
Earplugs are an amazing way to block out noise. The problem? They aren’t ideal for long-term use.
It’s fine to use them at a loud concert, for example. Earplugs will block certain frequencies and reduce the loudness of the sound, and help you reduce the damaging effect of the noise on your hearing while allowing you to enjoy the show.
But the situation is different if you’re trying to sleep with them all night.
- Sleeping with earplugs can prevent earwax from draining naturally. Keeping your ears plugged can also force earwax to go back into the ear, effectively causing earwax build-up.
- Such excess build-up can lead to ear infections, tinnitus, and hearing loss.
- Earplugs are also notorious for causing strain to your ear canal (if you’re experiencing pain while using earplugs, this is probably why). This strain can damage the middle ear, which then causes severe pain after a few months.
- Another reason why you shouldn’t sleep with earplugs on is because they can be a little too effective at blocking out sound. They can also prevent you from noticing your wake-up alarm go off.
The good news? There are better alternatives to earplugs available in the market. Here are 7 of the absolutely best ones.
How to Block Out Noise Without Earplugs
#1. Use white noise machines
My favorite way to block noise is to drown it out with white noise.
To understand how white noise works, let’s look at its science.
White noise contains equal quantities of all frequencies audible to the human ear. To make this easier to imagine with an analogy — picture white noise as a large band where each member plays at a different frequency, and the band covers all frequencies.
So how exactly does white noise block noise?
The main reason you wake up from noise isn’t due to the noise itself. You wake up because noise changes frequency that makes your ears notice it.
That’s where white noise comes to the rescue; it creates a masking effect that prevents your ear from being sensitive to any changes in frequency.
Some examples of white noise you’ve probably come across in daily life include the static of a TV or the dense hum of the radio as you change from one station to another.
White noise creates a tranquilizing environment. Research shows that white noise can help newborn babies, residents in high-noise areas and critically ill patients fall asleep faster and enjoy better quality sleep.
In order to listen to pure white noise:
- Get a white noise machine — You can use these if you don’t like sleeping near your phone. They come with speakers that can play nature sounds for hours.
- Get a white noise fan — It cools your room and blocks outside sounds. i
All the above three options are affordable. They also aren’t as health hazardous as earplugs.
That being said, I recommend you limit overexposure to white noise. CDC’s NIOSH says you shouldn’t expose your ears to volumes above 85 decibels (dB) for more than eight hours at a time. To ensure your white noise isn’t exceeding safe limits, we recommend using the NIOSH’s Sound Level Meter (SLM) app to set safe white noise decibel levels.
#2. Sleep with noise-canceling headphones
Noise-canceling headphones are a great option for you if you:
- sleep on your back (sleeping sideways with headphones can hurt your ears).
- Work in loud environments.
- Or don’t want to use white noise machines as they can disturb your family or co-workers.
Noise-canceling headphones effectively block out sound from the environment by utilizing a physics principle called phase cancellation. Phase cancellation occurs when oppositely phased sound waves cancel each other out.
Some noise-canceling headphones (good ones) are so powerful that they can even block out the loud noise that jet engines make. That’s why pilots love using them.
Of course, such a high level of noise cancellation might be a tad bit too excessive for you. If you prefer not to dwell in complete silence, use the headphone’s equalizers to decrease the noise cancellation effect and let some sound in.
Noise-canceling headphones do have some drawbacks – they are heavy and uncomfortable. This may cause them to slip off your ear and cause ear chafing.
EXAMPLE: SONY WH-1000XM4
#3. Or use dedicated bluetooth sleep headphones
Bluetooth sleep headphones are headbands with Bluetooth speakers installed in them. They block sound in two ways: they cover your ears and allow you to stream ambient music through your phone.
If you’re a side sleeper, these headphones are perfect for you. They have an ultra-thin design that puts minimal pressure on the ear — making it possible to wear them all night long.
A Bluetooth sleep headphone is multifunctional. You can use it to block unwanted noises, play music in the bed, work out at the gym, or meditate. Some great sleep-friendly Bluetooth headphones include Musicozy Sleep Headphones and Lavince Sleep Headphones.
EXAMPLE: Musicozy Sleep Headphones
#4. Wear a wrap-a-nap sleep pillow
Another option is a wrap-a-nap pillow if you don’t like Bluetooth headphones. They are a clever combination of a sleep mask, travel pillow, and earmuffs. They wrap around your head and muffle sounds, much like traditional earmuffs. These pillows are ultra-soft and comfortable and can be used with a regular pillow.
I don’t recommend wrap-a-nap pillows for light sleepers, as they allow some sound to pass through. However, they’re perfect for mid to heavy sleepers as they can muffle noise from traffic and loud neighbors.
#5. Block the sound with acoustic foams
Using acoustic foams is another way to absorb sound and reduce reverberation. However, while they significantly reduce noise, they don’t eliminate it completely.
In addition to blocking noise from outside, you can use acoustic foam to prevent loud sounds from leaving the room. This is an excellent option if you own a dog or are the unlucky parent of a teenager who thinks he plays the drums brilliantly. As a plus, these foams also look aesthetically pleasing, so you can use them to enhance your interior décor.
Installing acoustic foam on walls and ceilings is pretty easy to DIY. If you search on the internet, you’ll find many ways to attach these foams to the wall. But there’s only one method that I like.
If you want to leave your wall as undamaged as possible, use the below method.
The method involves sticking the foams to the wall with sewing pins (dressmaker pins). Here’s a great video that shows you how to do the same.
Remember to install the foams properly because they won’t absorb sound effectively if done incorrectly.
Auralex Acoustic Studiofoam Wedgies and Dailycooper Acousitc Panels come with noise reduction coefficients (NRCs) of 0.80 and 0.95 and are the best acoustic foams. The greater the noise reduction coefficients, the better the noise-blocking capability (an NRC of 1 means the material will block ALL sound).
A quick word of caution — regular acoustic foam contains polyurethane, a flammable material that releases a lot of smoke. So don’t just purchase any foam from the market. However, you don’t have to worry if you buy the two foams recommended above.
#6. Reduce the noise with soundproof curtains
Most of the sound that enters a room comes from windows and doors. So using soundproof curtains can help decrease sounds from outside (but it won’t completely block them). They’re better suited for light noise pollution (chirping birds, crickets, etc.).
These curtains also absorb sound from the inside, making your room sound quieter than usual.
Soundproof curtains are thick, sturdy, and woven from natural and synthetic fibers such as velvet, cotton, and polyester.
If you’re buying these curtains, get one covering your whole wall, from the ceiling to the ground. Additionally, make sure it has 5-10 inches more than your window size. Essentially, the more you cover the window, the more you can muffle outside sounds.
Buying curtains with a wider width also allows you to fold them and create more layers, which helps them absorb more noise.
One more tip that will help you hunt for Mr. Perfect Curtain — buy a heavy one. Heavier curtains block more sound than lighter ones.
Since these curtains can block out light completely, it will be an ideal purchase for the vampires among you.
#7. Finally, soundproof your home
The simplest way to soundproof your home is by filling the gaps and cracks around your doors and windows with Green Glue, an acoustic caulk sealant. Covering the gap between the floor and door with a door sweep further seals your room from outdoor noise (a door sweep is a piece of rubber or plastic that fits underneath your door to create a seal when closed).
Another way to increase sound insulation is to install an extra drywall layer on top of your wall. Drywall dampens sound, and two layers of it will drastically reduce the amount of noise coming into a room.
A relatively recent addition to home soundproofing products is soundproof paint (thicker than regular paint). It can reduce sounds at regular frequencies (normal speech volume) by 30%. Unfortunately, they don’t work very well to reduce the sound of barking dogs or traffic.
To achieve 30% noise reduction, add three coats of soundproof paint.
Acoustic paint is still a very new product. The brand that worked wonders for me was Acousti Coat Paint.
Finally, consider decorating your rooms with large furniture like plush couches, sculptures, and wall hangings — these can further dampen sound.
By combining all the methods we’ve discussed above, you’ll notice an insane level of sound reduction.
And there you have it…
The seven amazingly simple ways to block out noise without earplugs and still sleep well at night.
So, if you’re struggling to sleep with earplugs but are bothered by noises at night, try out devices like Bluetooth sleep headphones, noise-canceling headphones, or white noise machines.
And to soundproof your home, install acoustic foam, soundproof curtains, drywall layers, soundproof sealants, and door sweeps, and enjoy a restful night.