The Goal: Find the best earplug for sleeping comfortably through your partner’s snoring and the neighbor’s late-night “redecorating.” Sleep doctors, who warn against drugstore foam (effective for muffling but too big for the average canal), point toward wax and silicone options that sit comfortably in the ear while still allowing you to hear the alarm go off in the morning.
The Verdict: The Swedish-designed Happy Ears are formed from an FDA-approved clear thermo-plastic that reduces all noise by 25 decibels on average, enough to turn normal conversation into a muted whisper. The tiny round tip comes in three sizes and gently disappears into the ear, so, for side sleepers, it won’t push against the pillow. Style-conscious quiet-seekers might also delight in knowing these were the first earplugs attractive enough to be sold at the now-closed Paris boutique Colette.
The doctor’s favorite
While the bright-blue silicone EarPlanes aren’t quite as fashion-forward, they’re the preferred plug of Dr. Michael Breus, who most often goes by the Sleep Doctor (he’s also a clinical psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine). They were designed by the House Ear Institute, a leading ear surgery and research center in California, and were tested by U.S. Navy pilots before the general public. As the name suggests, they’re designed specifically for airplane discomfort, but they’ve got four rings for blocking out crying babies (and intense changes in air pressure).
Best foam earplugs
Yes, some doctors advise against foam, but that’s only because most people find them too big and unpleasant to wear. Still, foam earplugs are in fact the quietest option. Dr. W. Chris Winter, sleep specialist and author of the Sleep Solution, likes that foam can“muffle out the higher pitched sounds and quiet the whole environment down a little bit.” (After you roll them up and squeeze them into the ear canal they’ll expand to cover the entire opening and reduce all noise before it enters.) The Honeywell Laser Lites are smaller than most foam designs and generally thought to be the most comfortable, according to Nick Robinson, who runs the ratings forum Sleep Like the Dead. Ben Trapskin, founder of the Sleep Sherpa, says he’s had “really good luck with these” and that they’re “great for blocking out noise on an airplane or noisy hotel room.” Don’t be turned off by the Day-Glo color scheme, it’s meant to make it obvious that you’re wearing earplugs so no one will wonder why you’ve started ignoring them.
Best silicone earplugs
According to Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach and founder of Tuck, “Silicone earplugs don’t go into the ear canal, but mainly cover the entrance of the ear [so] they can be easier to remove for the sleeper.” He likes these because they “mold well to the ear and are also reusable.” Just rinse with soapy water in between uses and let them dry completely to prevent any mildew growth.
Best wax earplugs
Compared to foam and silicone earplugs, Fish says wax earplugs “can be a bit pricey, but many users swear by [their] ability to block out ambient noises.” One of those dedicated fans is Rose Annis, director of sales strategy and marketing at Atlas Obscura, who loves these “old-timey” wax ear plugs from German brand Ohropax. “The wax becomes pliable as it responds to your body heat, making them fit comfortably no matter how misshaped your ears might be,” she told us, when we were on the hunt for the best products to help you sleep on a flight. Fish agrees that Ohropax are the best out there when it comes to wax. “They do an outstanding job of conforming to the ear to block out sound,” he says, “but are also quite comfortable as they come with a soft cotton cover around the wax.” The vintage-looking metal tin is also a nice touch.
Best white-noise-playing earplugs
A combination of earplugs and headphones, these sound-playing, noise-masking “Sleepbuds” are Dr. Winter’s personal favorite. “They’re tuned to block out ambient noise,” he says. “They’re Bluetooth so there’s no wire, and they fit really nicely in your ear.” Instead of music, these play your choice of soothing sound (like waves or gentle rain) from the accompanying Bose app.
*A version of this article appears in the September 5, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.
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