What you should know about sleeping with earphones or earplugs
Many of us find it easier to fall asleep to a podcast or some calm tunes. This is not a problem for our ears, says a medical expert. It is more critical if you regularly sleep with earplugs. Franziska Gabbert/dpa
Many of us find it easier to fall asleep to a podcast or some calm tunes. This is not a problem for our ears, says a medical expert. It is more critical if you regularly sleep with earplugs. Franziska Gabbert/dpa

Whether it's to unwind after a stressful day or block out annoying noise, listening to music or podcasts helps some people fall asleep. Is it safe?

We asked ENT physician Dr Bernhard Junge-Huelsing, spokesman for the German Association of Otorhinolaryngologists, about falling asleep with earphones, earbuds or headphones - and about earplugs too.

Is it harmful to nod off with earphones/earbuds or headphones on and then sleep all night with music or podcasts in your ears?

Bernhard Junge-Huelsing: People who fall asleep wearing the devices typically wake up and remove them. If you occasionally sleep through the night with them on, it's not a problem for your ears since the music or podcasts you fall asleep to usually aren't very loud. It's no different than falling asleep while watching television.

What can be problematic, however, is listening to relatively loud music or podcasts for a long time every workday while you're commuting to and from your job by bus or train.

Some people regularly sleep with earplugs because their partner snores. What do you say about this?

Junge-Huelsing: You shouldn't always sleep wearing earplugs - for several reasons. If you stick something into your ears every evening, you press earwax into the auditory canal. It normally cleans itself, but you're disrupting the process. This can lead to inflammation, which I see almost daily in my practice.

What's more, if you constantly sleep with earplugs, you completely block out ambient night sounds such as the rustling of leaves or your partner's breathing. You get increasingly neurotic and soon can't sleep any more if you're not wearing earplugs.

If your partner's snoring bothers you, my advice is to determine the cause of the snoring. Is it obstructive sleep apnea? Alcohol consumption before bedtime? Instead of simply blocking it out, it's better to work on making things better.

So sleeping with earplugs is a bad idea?

Junge-Huelsing: Using them to sleep every once in a while is OK. You can get very simple models from a hearing aid specialist as a promotional gift.

It's another matter if you're subjected to loud noise at your workplace and need ear protectors, in which case they should be customized for your ears. And if you regularly use earplugs, you should wipe them off once a day with tap water, or even distilled water to keep the germ count low.