Is Sleeping With AirPods in Bad for You? (9 Hidden Risks)

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Article medically reviewed and fact-checked by D.r Mehrsa Jalalizadeh (M.D, Medical Researcher, Data Scientist)

I have misophonia – which makes it difficult for me to get to sleep.

Because this condition means that seemingly innocuous sounds like creaking floorboards, people coughing, and the faint whisper of the TV in a distant room can trigger ferocious levels of anger and anxiety that can keep me awake for far too long.

My current strategy to combat this involves listening to white noise (well, brown noise to be exact) using wired earphones for 1 hour prior to bed time in an effort to calm down; before inserting Hearos Xtreme Protection Ear Plugs into my ears to try and dampen the sounds of people being annoying in my house.

But this strategy has two problems: the earplugs cause a build up of wax, and removing the wired earphones and switching off the computer ruins any state of relaxation that I might have achieved.

Plus, I sometimes get woken up during the night by sounds outside or inside the house.

So, I decided to look into the possibility of using Apple AirPods to avoid this interruption; whilst using the noise canceling setting on the AirPods Pro to hopefully do a better job of blocking out external sounds for the duration of the night without causing ear wax build-up.

But I was worried that sleeping in AirPods might not be safe long-term.

And after many hours of in-depth research – consulting with several reputable sources – here’s my conclusion:

Sleeping with AirPods in has several possible short and long-term risks, such as the potential for ear infections, wax build-up, soreness, hearing loss, sleep disturbances, losing or even swallowing the earbuds – however, getting cancer from AirPods is very unlikely.

For me personally, these risks combine in such a way that I don’t feel happy sleeping in AirPods as a long-term solution for my misophonia.

Because whilst the actual chance of some of these risks manifesting is very low, some of the other problems are actually quite likely to happen – with outcomes that range from mild annoyance to potentially being quite severe.

But you’re not me and you might be less risk-averse.

So to help you make a decision that’s right for you, I’ve listed the top 9 potential risks associated with sleeping in AirPods below – along with the estimated likelihood of each one happening.

And whilst I’ve cited as many scientific and credible sources as possible, please note that this is ultimately an opinion piece and I encourage you to think for yourself – erring on the side of caution if in doubt.

But if like me, you decide that sleeping in AirPods isn’t the move for you, be sure to check out my list of some alternative methods for blocking out external noise and getting to sleep at the end of the article.

Related: see the best mattresses that I have reviewed to buy now.

The 9 Potential Dangers of Sleeping in AirPods

Sleeping in AirPods carries some short and long-term risks that vary in severity.

The most likely hazards include: your earbuds falling out and getting lost, wax build-up in your ears that could lead to an infection, hearing loss if you turn the volume up to more than 60% for more than 60 minutes of use, physical discomfort, or feeling unrested in the morning due to shallower sleep.

More severe outcomes may include missing something important like the sound of your smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector going off.

See below for a full explanation.

Related: find out if it’s safe to sleep in an Apple Watch here.

1: Cancer Concerns (Very Unlikely – More Research Needed)

So, can AirPods cause cancer?

There is no scientific research that has established a clear connection between using AirPods and an increased risk of cancer – the frequency, amount, and type (non-ionizing) of radiation being emitted is unlikely to cause cancerous cell mutation.

Click here to see my in-depth article regarding Apple AirPods and cancer.

Opposing Views

However, this is a highly controversial topic that needs more in-depth research and for more time to pass to reach a concrete conclusion in either direction.

In summary, the main issue is the uncertainty surrounding the long-term impact of exposure to the low-energy radio frequency (RF) radiation emitted by the underpinning Bluetooth technology [1] that allows for the wireless, short-distance data exchange between your AirPods and your iPhone or iPad.

This grey area is of particular concern if you’re thinking about sleeping in your AirPods for the duration of the night long-term because these RF emitting devices are going to be in direct contact with your ears and the surrounding cells.

Joel M. Moskowitz – a PhD and the Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the School of Public Health, who’s spent more than 40 years researching disease prevention with a recent focus on the potential adverse health effects of cell phone and wireless radiation [2] – has expressed his worries in regards to the radiation emitted by Bluetooth technology.

In regards to AirPods specifically, Dr Moskowitz said:

“When I heard about the AirPods, it caused me great concern. We can’t say with certainty that these devices are dangerous, but based on the research that has been done on similar types of radiation, there’s good reason to think this is going to be problematic in the long term.” [3].

However, Apple spokesperson Alex Kirschner provided the following rebuttal:

“Apple products are always designed and tested to meet or exceed all safety requirements.” [4].

These safety requirements involve keeping the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) below the US legal limit of 1.60 w/kg (watts per kilogram of body tissue) [5].

The SAR (from a non-Apple source) is cited as being 0.466 watts per kilogram [6] – which is well within the legal limit.

However, other academics have argued that this standard doesn’t take into account that the AirPods are inserted into the ear and therefore the RF radiation is being emitted in close proximity to the brain.

But other scientists have countered this by saying that AirPods are unlikely to cause heath risks because the Bluetooth transmitter hangs away from the ear; whilst the FDA says that the current risk level is ‘probably very small’ [7].

What Should You Do?

It depends on whose opinion you give the most weight to from the sources that I’ve cited above.

I’m a pretty cautious person, so whilst I think that short-term use of AirPods is unlikely to be a significant risk factor in developing cancer, there’s not enough reliable scientific evidence available at the moment for me to feel the same way about sleeping in the AirPods long-term.

But that’s just my opinion.

You might also want to check out the video below that compares the EMF readings of AirPods in relation to other devices in your home:

Do Apple AirPods Cause Cancer? EMF Radiation Level Testing (Serg Tech)

2: Risk of Swallowing The Ear Buds (Unlikely)

The chance of falling asleep in your AirPods and then swallowing one of the earbuds is very low.

But according to Fox News – there is one documented case of this happening [8].

More specifically, Ben Hsu from Taiwan went to sleep with both earbuds in but could only find one when he woke up.

And upon enabling the tracking feature on his iPhone, he discovered that he had actually swallowed the other earbud.

This was confirmed with an x ray at the hospital and whilst surgery was on the cards if it became lodged in his digestive system, the earbud passed without issue and was in full working order afterwards.

3: Build Up of Ear Wax (Fairly Likely)

Regular use of AirPods and any other type of earbud can increase the rate at which ear wax builds up in your ear – according to the Whittier Hospital Medical Center [9].

Too much ear wax in your ear can impair your hearing, and cause a build up of dirt and bacteria that can potentially lead to allergic reactions and inflammation.

The best way to combat these risks is to clean your earbuds regularly and limit the amount of time that the AirPods are in your ears.

4: Ear Infections (Moderate Risk)

The Whittier Hospital Medical Center warns that when ear wax begins to build up in your ears as a result of excessive earbud use, the risk of infection also increases.

This is because your ears are designed to be self-cleaning and having an earbud in there can hinder this process and lead to a build-up of wax.

Otitis externa is primarily caused by a bacterial infection that can affect your ears, but can also be caused through damage to the skin inside your ear, pushing a cotton bud too far into the ear, or blocking the ear canal with earbuds – pain and inflammation is often the outcome.

Preventative steps include limiting the amount of time that you have earbuds in your ears, keeping your AirPods clean, and switching to headphones some of the time.

5: Hearing Loss (Possible But Avoidable)

Listening to music through your AirPods, headphones, or anything else that is close to your ear above 105 – 110 decibels (dB) can potentially lead to hearing loss in less than 5 minutes according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [10].

105 – 110 decibels is around the maximum volume level of your personal listening device.

So turning the volume down to around half is going to bring the (dB) down to a more acceptable range.

Experts also recommend that you limit earbud usage to no more than 60 minutes of total use per day at 60% of the maximum volume [11] – which kind of rules out sleeping in them for 8 hours at any significant volume levels.

The table below gives you a better idea of how different sounds relate to various dB ranges and the risk to your hearing.

SoundLoudnessRisk to Hearing
Ticking clockQuiet (20 dB)Minimal
Normal conversationAverage (60 dB)Minimal
MP3 player (70% volume)Fairly loud (85 dB)Damage possible
Earbuds (100% volume)Very loud (105 – 110 dB)Damage within 5 mins
Standing near sirenPainful (120 dB)Damage within seconds

6: AirPods Falling Out (Pretty Likely)

It’s pretty likely that if you sleep in your AirPods regularly – they’re going to fall out at some point.

The risks range from mild annoyance, losing the earbuds, to potentially swallowing them like Ben Hsu did.

In my case, I have a really hard time keeping an earbud in my right ear for longer than a few minutes because I have a cauliflower ear (perichondrial hematoma) from when I used to do wresting/BJJ/MMA.

This means that the shape of my ear is all messed up and thus forces the earbud out due to incompatibility.

See the related questions section near the end of the article for a way to keep your earbuds in place as you sleep.

7: Physical Damage to Your Ear (Possible)

Your AirPods may cause damage to your ears if you roll on the earbuds during the night.

The most likely outcome is mild discomfort due to the earbuds pressing into your ears at an awkward angle.

In more extreme cases, sustained, concentrated pressure on your ears may cause death of the skin cells (necrosis).

This is one reason why I wouldn’t recommend angling the earbuds in an effort to keep them in your ears more securely – since this positioning may increase the risk of the earbud being forced further into your ear where damage may occur.

8: Sleep Disturbance (Possible)

Sleeping in your AirPods may disturb your sleep because a constant sound may stimulate your nervous system, heart rate, and stress hormones to the point where you’re unable to get into a deep enough sleep to allow you to feel rested in the morning.

Depending on how sensitive you are, you may be able to combat this by reducing the volume.

9: Not Hearing Important Sounds (Possible)

Depending on the volume setting, you may end up missing something important like a smoke alarm going off or someone knocking on the door.

Lowering the volume is a reasonable solution here.

3 Alternatives to Sleeping in AirPods

If, like me, you’ve decided that sleeping in AirPods isn’t the right choice for blocking out sounds then here are some potential alternatives.

1: Sleep Headphones

There are several wireless sleep headphones available on the market that are specifically designed to fit comfortably without having to worry about the earbuds falling out.

The Navly V5.0 Sports Headband Headphones seem to be a popular option because it uses thin speakers and a flexible headband for comfort.

2: White Noise Generator

If you’re worried about the whole cancer thing then you might want to consider a white noise machine that sits in your room.

The Manta White Noise Machine can allow you to play a sound continuously all night or work on a timer that runs for 7 hours.

People are also reporting that this machine is helping to ease their tinnitus.

3: Earplugs + Ear Defenders

This is my current set up for when my misophonia is driving me crazy:

Hearos Xtreme Earplugs plus a set of 3M Ear Defenders (with cloth shoved into the ear-space in the ear defenders):

Hearos Xtreme Earplugs plus a set of 3M Ear Defenders for Blocking Out Misophonia Sounds

This combination seems to block out a decent range of high and low frequency sounds – although some noises still get through.

Usually, I just go with the earplugs alone because the ear defenders put a lot of pressure on my jaw which gives me headache after a while.

Also, the earplugs are probably a lot worse than the AirPods when it comes to causing wax build up – I’ve had to have my ears syringed in the past because of it.

But the alternative is that of going completely insane.

Related Questions

Here are the answers to some common questions regarding AirPods and sleeping in them.

Can You Die if You Wear AirPods to Sleep?

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll die if you sleep in AirPods – choking on the earbud is the only possible scenario that makes sense and is pretty unlikely to happen to an adult.

Do AirPods Kill Brain Cells?

There’s no scientific evidence that proves that AirPods kill brain cells – more research is required to reach a concrete conclusion in either direction.

How Do You Keep AirPods in at Night?

EarSkinz AirPod Covers or AirPod Grips are likely the safest and most effective way to keep your AirPods in place at night.

Sleeping in AirPods Isn’t Risk Free

You may have decided that sleeping in AirPods is worth the risk.

But it’s not something that I personally see as a viable long-term solution for combating my misophonia at night.

Because whilst I’d expect the risk of wax build-up and infection to be less than that of wearing earplugs to block out sounds, I personally find the earbuds more uncomfortable.

Related: 6 ways to get to sleep after drinking an energy drink.

Sources and References

[1] – Microwaves, Radio Waves, and Other Types of Radiofrequency Radiation. Accessed 10/6/20.

[2] Berkeley Public Health – Joel Moskowitz PhD. Accessed 10/6/20.

[3], [4], [7] Cal Alumni Association (UC Berkeley) – Clear Sound, Sleek Styling, and Microwave Radiation. Accessed 10/6/20.

[5] FCC – Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) for Cellular Telephones. Accessed 10/6/20.

[6] Smart and Safe – The Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) for the AirPods. Accessed 10/6/20.

[8] Fox News – Accidentally Swallowed AirPod Amazingly Works After Passing Through Man’s Digestive System: Report. Accessed 11/6/20.

[9] Whittier Hospital Medical Center – Are Earbuds Bad for My Ears? Accessed 11/6/20.

[10] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – What Noises Cause Hearing Loss? Accessed 11/6/20.

[11] Kids Health – Earbuds. Accessed 11/6/20.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Woman Sleeping in Air Pods’ – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.