You Asked: Is it Safe to Sleep with AirPods In?

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is it safe to sleep with airpods

It might be tempting to let your AirPods lull you to sleep with your favorite song, but is that really as dreamy as it sounds? There’s a bit of hot debate in the sleep community surrounding the safety risks of wearing AirPods to bed. 

In this post, we will break down the pros, cons, and safety tips for doing so. 

So…What Happens if You Sleep With AirPods In?

When used appropriately, sleeping with AirPods can be safe. They can help you doze off, whether you’re listening to music, white noise, rain sounds, or even a very boring podcast. Some people swear by it as their foolproof method for slipping to sleep quickly. 

We aren’t going to moralize it for you; sleeping with AirPods in is neither “good” nor “bad.” However, the “bad” sides of nighttime AirPod use are worth looking at. This habit does carry some risks, however small, and it’s best to be properly informed on a product and its risks before taking the plunge.

Ear Risks

As you toss and turn at night, your Airpods might end up in some awkward positions, i.e. pressed into your pillow and burrowing too deep into your ear. Left in for too long and nestled in your ear canal (hint: it shouldn’t be in there at all!) can lead to untold ramifications. 

A too-deep AirPod will send vibrations close to the eardrum, putting you at risk for headaches, earaches, and infections. In an absolute worst-case scenario, an AirPod pressed up too tightly against your skin for too long can lead to dead skin and even necrosis. Luckily, these types of ear infections are rarely very dangerous, and they’re easily avoidable by cleaning your AirPods regularly and not wearing them for more than a few hours at a time.

Ear wax poses a slightly less frightening risk. AirPods could push the ear wax deposits far down your ear canal, making it difficult to remove and susceptible to buildup. Luckily, this is a relatively simple problem to solve, but not without a little bit of discomfort.

Surprise Snacks

Here’s another phobia to add to your list: accidental swallowing. Yup, you read that correctly: some people have accidentally downed a Pod or two! 

One boy choked on an AirPod he got as a Christmas present before accidentally swallowing it, granting him an instant trip to the emergency room. And in an almost cartoonish chain of events, a woman who held an AirPod in one hand and Ibuprofen in the other sleepily swallowed the wrong small object from the wrong hand. (She was fine, just a little perturbed.) 

And yes, this can happen in your sleep! One man woke up on an otherwise normal day after having fallen asleep with his AirPods in. Throughout the morning, he ran into a couple of mysteries, medical and otherwise: chest comfort, a sudden inability to swallow water or wine, and a single missing AirPod. He had trouble believing this was little more than a coincidence until his local doctor’s x-ray confirmed the truth.

Hearing Loss

Plenty of people will warn you against loud rock concerts and the permanent damage they can do to your hearing, but not everyone knows of the insidious AirPod. Well, this applies to earbuds and headphones in general. Most of us already listen to music a little too loud, and the World Health Organization estimated that over 1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss in 2015. When you consider the fact that AirPods are essentially tiny speakers blaring into our eardrums for hours at a time, this may come as little surprise. 

In worst-case scenarios, the damage can happen a little quicker. One student woke up having entirely lost the hearing in one ear after having an Airpod in all night, and it took a five-day hospital stay to get his hearing back. To avoid this sort of thing, doctors recommend taking a five-minute break from your earbuds every hour and never having the volume higher than 60% of its full capacity.

AirPods can impair not only your hearing but also your ability to properly listen. With your pods streaming your favorite tunes directly into your ear canal, you might not notice the crucial goings-on of your household. This isn’t so bad when you’re just trying to tune out your little sister’s late-night sleepover gossip or your cat barrelling through the living room. But some things are worth keeping an ear out for, like your neighbor’s smoke alarm or your baby’s cries.

Sleep Comfort

As we touched on earlier, AirPods limit your sleep mobility and comfort. Side sleepers may suffer from a pinched ear, so you’ll probably have to sleep on your back or stomach. For some people, this feels natural, but others might end up with a little neck stiffness. 

Cancer or Radiation Risks?

Everything is a little radioactive, but some devices are radioactive enough to raise concern. The science community is a bit divided on the issue of whether Bluetooth devices pose a notable radiation risk through their use of non-ionizing electromagnetic technology. This may seem especially concerning when the device is placed as close to a sensitive tissue as an AirPod is. 

Fortunately, all Apple devices have to pass through federal safety regulations before they hit the market. Therefore, AirPods have already been deemed safe enough for regular use, even when pressed up close to the skin. They release about 1/10th of most of the radiation that a standard cell phone emits. There’s currently no established evidence that AirPods are notably radioactive, let alone radioactive enough to give you cancer.

In another article of ours, we break down the science and safety concerns for sleeping next to your phone in general. Check it out for a more detailed overview!

Benefits of Sleeping With AirPods

Minimized Distractions

We talked about the dangers of an AirPod’s ability to shut out the noise, but hey! It can be a pretty useful feature, too. Sometimes we need to hit the hay a couple of hours before our flatmates, or perhaps your neighbor’s house is undergoing some construction. In cases like these, soft music can lull you to sleep when the sound of your friends laughing from the kitchen can’t.

Calming Experience

Most of us love listening to music, and for a good reason. It releases “happy chemicals” serotonin and dopamine in our brains, creating a feel-good effect that can lull us to sleep. Studies have also shown that listening to the right music before bed creates a relaxation response, leading to a faster, longer, and less disrupted night’s sleep.

Proper Airpod Hygiene

  • To avoid infections, clean your AirPods regularly by wiping them gently first with a damp towel, and then with a lint-free dry one.
  • As we mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to take regular breaks from the music you’re listening to. These brief breaks can occur anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours into your listening session.
  • Avoid loud, fast music that’ll only raise your heart rate. Instead, opt for tunes with a beat between 60-80 bpm, mimicking the heart rate of a healthy, relaxed person. If you’d rather not listen to music at all, you can try out ASMR or white noise.
  • Choose the right size! Standard AirPods are the same size across the board, but their various mimics and earbud competitors all vary in size from each other. The AirPod Pro comes with three interchangeable rubber tips of varying sizes. One that’s just the right size will reward you with rich sound and superb noise cancellation, but one too large or too small could slip out or cause some of those infection-related concerns we covered earlier.
  • Keep your AirPods in a ventilated case to prevent moisture and bacterial buildup, preventing infections
  • If you’d like to sleep on your side with your AirPods in, you can invest in a nice travel pillow or soft pillow that feels like the right one for you.

So What’s the Verdict?

As always, we are leaving this up to you! It’s doubtful that wearing AirPods to bed will actually hamper your overall health, but there are plenty of ways to at least minimize its negative impact. And if you still feel like nighttime AirPods are not your thing but you’d still like to listen to music before bed, you can always play tunes from your phone sitting on your dresser or sleep-specific headphones.

Michelle Foley

Michelle Foley

Michelle Foley is a Yale student with deep interests in cognitive science, English, and the visual Arts. As an avid psychology enthusiast, she is highly interested in learning about the effects of sleep quality on our behaviors, moods, and health. She is passionate about equitable access to education, much of which includes the provision of quality sleep environments to students and other young people so they have the opportunity to show up in their classes and lives as their best and healthiest selves.

She was raised in the United States by a father who possesses a lifelong and near-militaristic focus on getting his nightly nine-plus hours, and now she strives for the same so she can happily paint and explore nature in her free time. In fact, a lot of her artwork is sleep-themed, featuring reclining figures and dreaming characters. She hopes to further explore rest-related topics in her future art and writing.

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