If you’re a light sleeper, I’ve got some good news and bad news. The good is that you found your way onto the right website made by a similar soul. The bad news is that failing to carry earplugs around with you ALL THE TIME is a rookie error.
Still, not all is lost.
The best strategies for blocking noise if you don’t have earplugs are to distance yourself from the source of the noise, even only a few meters can help. Using white noise to block it out can work also. It is not recommended to fashion makeshift earplugs, these can damage your ear and are not worth the trouble.
A quick word, before we dive into the details. I’m referring to getting to sleep here. If you need to block noise for other reasons then you’re in the wrong place, and you should not be risking loud noises without the right equipment.
How to block noise without earplugs
I managed to sleep (or try to…) for years without earplugs. I thought the only ones were those crappy little foam things you got at the chemist that didn’t block a decibel so I went through most of my life without knowing how useful they are, and how effective they are these days.
I’ll get to that in a second so you can spare yourself some trouble next time. For now, here are my tips.
· 1. Distance yourself. With nothing to cover your ears, your first job should be to get as far away from the source of the noise as possible.
Sound waves obey the inverse square law, which basically means that moving a small distance away from the noise can produce a large reduction in the total volume. This depends on circumstances of course. It’s easy to sleep at the other side of the room to a snorer, it’s not so easy to move further away from a stage at a festival!
· 2. Use white noise. If the noise is not too loud but is irregular (which is what drives into our brain for us sensitive slepers) then the simplest approach is to use white noise to drown out the noise in a steady hum.
If you can’t get access to earplugs then presumably buying a white noise machine is off the agenda, but in a pinch, you can use a radio or tv set to a dead channel or there are many phone apps which fulfill the same purpose.
I have ‘Sleep Fan’ downloaded onto my iphone and it does the job perfectly well.
· 3. Address the source of the noise. Not the answer anyone likes to hear but probably the most effective strategy in many cases. The first thing to bear in mind is that having a conversation with someone who is making noise is worth the effort.
Your choice is to torture yourself trying and failing to sleep while being constantly annoyed and resenting the indiviual(s) who are causing the noise. Or… get out of bed, put some clothes on and politely explain the situation. Guess which one is easier?
· 4. Stay up and accept the lack of sleep. There are times when you just can’t do anything. My apartment is pretty good for noise generally but it’s in the middle of a busy city and sometimes on a Friday and Saturday night, the TV studio across the road will have some bizarre outside party which will play music until 1 or 2 am.
The music, naturally, finds its way through my windows and into my sleeping space. It’s too loud for earplugs or white noise. I don’t even know if that’s legal to be honest but when it happens the best course of action is to just get up and do something productive for an hour or two.
I’ll feel a lot better having read a book or done some studying and I won’t mind missing an hour or two’s sleep. If you get up and just watch youtube videos you’ll just get annoyed.
· 5. Your last resort due to various reasons is to cover your ears with anything that will provide even a modest amount of noise reduction. If you’ve reached this stage then don’t expect any miracles but I’ll elaborate on some of the options you’ve got in the next section.
Can I cover my ears with anything?
The first point I want to make very clear is that homemade earplugs are undeniably a not-very-sensible idea. So much so that I’ll dedicate an entire subheading to discussing it in just a second. You do have other options of varying efficacy.
The first is that you can use earphones or headphones and play music loud enough to drown out whatever noise is irritating you. I expect this is aimed at the wrong audience though as in my case, I’m so sensitive to noise that any kind of music loud enough to drown out anything else will utterly and totally prevent me from sleeping.
If you’re fortunate enough to have noise-canceling headphones AND you sleep on your back, they can be somewhat effective even without any music playing, worth a try if you own some.
More practically, you can cover your ears with clothes, pillows, duvets or whatever soft material you have laying around. This is a real last resort technique and is unlikely to provide you much relief on its own but, perhaps combining with a few other factors, could lead to some respite.
Personally, I’ve found some relief doing this in hostel dorm rooms to partially block out someone’s snoring when, because it’s a stranger, I am not able to follow the course of action I would like which is usually throwing them out of a window.
Why can’t I make my own earplugs?
Please do not ever put paper or tissue inside your ear canal. It is an extremely sensitive area that may be damaged by shoving things in that you don’t know what the effects will be.
Tissue roll in particular is hydrophilic which means it will absorb moisture and over the course of a night’s sleep will become soggy and disintegrate inside your ear. If that’s not sufficient to put you off the idea, it also is not very effective at blocking noise.
The one substance you can use safely is cotton wool. The downside to this is they simply are not very effective at keeping noise out and it’s possible you don’t even have it at hand anyway.
My advice? Use this as a lesson to how important it is to be prepared so that you buy some damn earplugs in the morning! Write it down or something!
Next time, what earplugs should I have?
It may come as a surprise that the best earplugs available right now are made of foam. My favorite are Howard Leigh Laser Lite, here’s the link to a large pack of them on Amazon. They are made of a memory foam type substance that you squeeze together until it’s very thin and then you can put it far down into your ear canal, it pops out safely and easily, just so you know.
They have a Noise Reduction Ratio of 32 which is officially certified. That might not mean a lot but it is pretty good. In practical terms, they will dampen out all the sound that you hear, making sharp annoying noises into noises you can barely hear and won’t stop you from going to sleep.
It doesn’t block out all noises and particularly talking I find or anything overly loud you are going to need additional strategies.
They are technically single use but I use a pair several times before I feel they need changing. As you wear them the filling becomes less firm and it blocks out less noise and also doesn’t hold its shape as well so it doesn’t fit in your ear quite as snugly as a new pair.
Luckily, they’re so cheap that it doesn’t matter too much anyway. I linked to a pack of 200 on Amazon and that’s good for me for well over a year.