For years sleep specialists have warned that it’s a bad idea to fall asleep with the TV on. So people started to fall asleep listening to their favorite podcast or music. Some even stream TV onto their phone or tablet. Audiologists want you to know this is a bad idea. Earbuds can deliver noise at damaging levels while you sleep.

The earbud problem

Earbuds are very popular for use with smartphones, iPods, tablets and MP3 players. People like them because they are very small, very compact and they direct the sound to your ear canal. That’s exactly why hearing specialists dislike them. Earbuds emit noise very close to the sensitive parts of the inner ear. Your cochlea is covered in extremely sensitive hair cells. These hair-like cells convert the incoming sounds into electrical signals and send them to the brain via the auditory nerve. If you damage a hair cell, it is gone for good. And excessive noise damages hair cells. An iPod can deliver sound up to 103 decibels. Permanent damage to hair cells begins at 85 decibels. Clearly earbuds can damage your hearing while you sleep.

The alternatives

Ideally, you should fall to sleep in a dark, cool, quiet room. But, if you’ve trained yourself to fall asleep to noise, there are a couple of things you can do to protect your hearing while you sleep.

Sleep with headphones

If you sleep on your back, wearing headphones is an alternative. Headphones don’t deliver sound directly to the inner ear. Because they sit farther back, they are not as likely to damage hair cells. In addition, headphones deliver a better sound quality. That means you are more likely to listen with the volume at a lower setting. Headphones are more comfortable on the ears as well. They do not irritate the ear canal the way earbuds do. Headphones aren’t prone to clogging from earwax. They are a superior alternative to earbuds, whether you are sleeping, working out at the gym or just enjoying your favorite music.

Use a sleep timer

Android devices and iPhones all have sleep timers for audio playback.  So, set a sleep timer for 10-15 minutes then listen to your audiobook, podcast or music at the lowest setting possible. Most audiologists tell you to limit the amount of time you listen with earbuds to no more than 60 minutes per day, so be sure to factor in your sleep timer to the day’s total.  Not sure how to set a sleep timer?

If you’re already suffering from hearing loss or think you may need custom ear protection, contact an audiologist in your area and discuss your options.