Is it okay to sleep on headphones or earphones? – Cleveland Clinic

Maybe you live in a city that never sleeps and the sirens ring early in the morning. Alternatively, their snoring may keep you up late because you don’t have the opportunity to put your partner to sleep. Instead of losing sleep, hold your headphones and listen to the soothing sounds of the gentle rain to block all confusion.

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But is it a good idea to sleep on headphones? Or is there a risk of damaging your ears even when you’re not listening to music?

Audiologist Valerie Pavlovich Ruff, AuD explains why sleeping in headphones is safe as long as you use the right type of headphones and keep the volume to a minimum.

Why people choose to sleep on headphones

If you’re trying to improve your sleep hygiene, there are several reasons to wear headphones while you sleep.

  • Blocks noise.
  • relaxation.
  • Stress relaxation.
  • Enter the appropriate headspace.

Dr. Pavlovich Ruff says that people who are prone to tinnitus are most generally interested in sleeping with headphones because they want to be able to turn off their headphones and rest all night. There are several things that can cause this ringing.

  • Side effects of the drug.
  • Excessive caffeine.
  • High dose of aspirin.
  • Deafness.
  • Ear trauma due to loud noises such as firecrackers and physical injury.
  • Excessive noise exposure from work or recreational activities without hearing protection.
  • Physical stress like weightlifting.

“Emotional stress can also cause tinnitus,” says Dr. Pavlovich Ruff. “This is why many people fall asleep listening to soothing and relaxing things just to relieve stress.”

Can you sleep well?

Headphones can improve your sleep, or at least improve the way you settle into your bedtime routine. But Dr. Pavlovich Ruff is all about wearing the right type of headphones and how to use them.

Do not use noise canceling headphones in an emergency

“What if someone is trying to contact you, or your phone rings because of another emergency around you?” Asks Dr. Pavlovich Ruff. “Can you hear them? That’s my biggest concern.”

Keep the volume below half

Rule of thumb: If someone is within your reach, they shouldn’t be able to hear what you’re listening to, and you don’t take off your headphones and they talk to you You should be able to hear it.

On average, most people can hear 85 decibels for up to 8 hours without any adverse effects. However, if you want to hear more than 85 decibels, you need to cut your listening time in half for every 3 decibels you add. So, for example, if you’re listening to something at 88 decibels, it’s only 4 hours safe. Dr. Pavlovich Ruff suggests reducing the volume of the headphones by more than half and not wearing them for long periods of time.

“The important thing here is the volume and length of time you’re listening,” says Dr. Pavlovich Ruff. “You can listen to music all day long at a safe level, but listening at a very high level can damage your hearing in just 15 minutes.”

In one study of self-reported hearing and listening habits, people who listened to music for more than three hours were more likely to have tinnitus. In addition, 10% report listening to 90-100 decibels of music for extended periods of time, even during sleep, which may increase the risk of future hearing loss.

In-ear headphones can cause discomfort and bacterial infections

Inserting hard plastic earphones like AirPods® into your ears may not be terrible in the short term, but falling asleep with them can add discomfort. In addition, in-ear earphones can trap moisture in the ear canal, especially if you are heading to bed immediately after a shower. This can lead to bacterial growth and long-term outer ear infections. If you leave your in-ear headphones on for long periods of time, you may have too much earwax.

Over-the-ear headphones are more comfortable, but make sure you don’t have the cord

The last thing you want to do when you’re sleeping is to get entangled in the chords or accidentally raise the volume level too high. Overall, you need more comfortable wireless over-the-ear headphones because they don’t block the ear canal. There is also a headband with headphones, so you can wrap your head and spend comfortably.

If possible, use external speakers instead

If we share our living space with our partners and families, we may not have this next option. However, if possible, it is ideal to use external speakers to relieve ear pressure. In addition, you can set a timer for a particular device to shut it off after a period of time. That way, your listening will be limited to those precious minutes just before you fall asleep.

Side effects to watch out for

Some side effects of wearing headphones may include damage to the outer and inner ear, such as deafness.

Wax accumulation

The ear canal has glands that drain wax to keep the ears moist to prevent itching and dryness. It also prevents debris from falling into your ears and reaching the eardrum. However, if you push a cotton swab or earphone into your ear, you can actually push the wax further back to make it more compact. When this happens, you may feel tinnitus, slight deafness, or a blocked ear canal.

“In some cases, you may need to have your doctor remove the earwax,” said Dr. Pavlovich Ruff.

Swimmer ears

When water collects in the ear canal, bacteria can grow over time and cause an infection commonly referred to as the “swimmer’s ear.” Of course, this can happen if you swim regularly, but it can also happen if you wear in-ear headphones or earplugs and keep your ears moist for long periods of time. If the swimmer has ears, the ears may appear red, itchy, and painful. In some cases, pus may come out of your ears and your hearing may feel a little muffled. In these situations, it is important to consult an ENT doctor who can keep the ear canal dry and provide ear drops to help treat the infection.


If the headphones do not fit properly, over time the skin of the ear canal can be damaged and lead to necrosis. This condition occurs when there is too little blood flow as a result of injury or trauma. As a result, skin cells die, leaving lesions and black and brown tissue.

“If you feel pressure, pain, or bloating in your ears, it may indicate that your plugs or earphones aren’t fitting well,” says Dr. Pavlovich Ruff. “They can make custom sleeves for earphones to make them more comfortable, but if you’re a side sleeper, they may not be comfortable enough.”

Should I sleep with my headphones on?

If you’re ready for your next sleep cycle, you can only sleep on your headphones if you double down your over-the-ear headphones and keep the volume down when you put them on. “I will pay attention to how loud your volume is and how they fit,” advises Dr. Pavlovich Ruff. “Usually we don’t recommend wearing headphones on the bed, but if you’re using over-the-ear headphones or headband style, it’s better than in-ear style. It’s best to use external speakers.”

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