One of the most challenging aspects of traveling is getting enough sleep — let alone enough high-quality sleep. Between long flights, airport transfers, foreign beds, and jet lag, you could literally end up unable to remember the last night you had the recommended 7-9 hours. And if you, like me, are a very light sleeper by nature, even a short nap is out of the question when you are surrounded by dozens of strangers (and a screaming baby or two) on a plane.
“Some sleepers are just more sensitive to any ambient noise during the night — cars on the street, other late night wakers walking around, clocks ticking, etc. In these cases, earplugs may help,” said Dr. Nina L. Shapiro, director of pediatric ear, nose, and throat at the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA and professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
But how do you know which earplugs are the best for you?
“Earplug choice is based on several factors — degree of noise you wish to block out, [or noise reduction rating, measured as number of decibels blocked], comfort, and dual function,” Dr. Shapiro explained .
Related: The Best Sleep Masks for Travelingthis link opens in a new tab
Basically, the higher the noise reduction rating or NRR, the more sound blocked. For example, quiet speech is about 20 decibels, conversational speech is about 40 decibels, and an alarm clock is about 70-80 decibels. Most earplugs cover a range of 15 to 30 decibels.
Foam plugs, which are the most popular option, typically block 20-30 decibels of sound. “Many foam earplugs are disposable, so minimizing frequent use will minimize chance of skin infection,“ Dr. Shapiro said. She also explained that while there is no danger in using earplugs, some can cause irritation to the ear canals and potentially lead to an infection called otitis externa. You should stop use immediately if you feel anything bothersome and consult your doctor.
Another material option is silicone — most of these can be molded to fit the exact shape of your ear canal and are easy to clean with soap and water. If you opt for something more high tech, such as noise-cancelling earbuds or headphones, make sure to frequently wipe them with antibacterial wipes.
Now, check out 11 earplug options that will ensure you get your beauty rest, at home and away.