It's time to sound off on snoring
The first thing my father said about me after I was born was that my ears looked "interesting". Gee, thanks! Fortunately, my otolaryngologist disagrees and tells me my ears are both perfectly healthy and utterly unremarkable in appearance. But sometimes I wonder if my 'interesting' ears aren't hearing just a little too acutely, as it seems impossible to drown out the sounds around me and get some decent sleep when I travel.
I've slept in some mighty interesting locations and situations, all in the name of value travel, from 5 star resorts to the filth covered floor of the Nairobi airport. But some recent trips have been less than restful and I'm noticing that where I'm sleeping is less important than what I'm hearing.
In London, my favourite hostel became a nightmare when a dorm-mate snored so loudly she actually drowned out the police sirens coming from nearby Kings' Cross. On an overnight trip from Singapore to Sydney, the most luxurious flight of my life was almost ruined by a man who snored so loudly that his buzz saw cacophony boomed through my foam ear plugs, which I had covered with noise cancelling headphones, which were in turn playing loud music. I'm not exactly proud of this, but I may have, um, oh so gently kicked the man in the head. And still he snored on.
So how's a girl to find a good night's sleep in a noisy world?
How Soundly Do You Sleep?
Why is it that some people never wake up even to a fire alarm, while others are disturbed by a conversation next door? Noise as low as 40 decibels can wake up one person, while another can sleep through 70 decibels - that's the difference between hearing a mosquito buzzing versus a washing machine running. How soundly you sleep depends on many factors, including whether or not you are hearing familiar and soothing sounds, your comfort in your surroundings, and a multitude of sleep hygiene factors such as stress, room temperature, and caffeine intake.
It's Not Just The Volume - It's The Kind Of Noise!
As any city dweller can attest, the soothing sounds of traffic and sirens can easily lull a person to sleep but the chirp of a cricket in an otherwise silent campground can keep you awake all night long. Some people can't sleep without the steady tick of their alarm clock, while this subtle sound drives others to distraction. The presence or absence of familiar sounds can have just as much an impact on your sleep quality as the volume of those sounds. This certainly explains why you can't sleep with a whimpering baby four rows over but their parents can do so with ease! A lot of travellers I know use soothing musical or nature sounds to drift off to sleep. It's not just the pretty tones that help you sleep - it's their familiarity.
You're Wearing Your Ear Plugs All Wrong!
Not All Ear Plugs Are The Same! Factor 1: NRR
Ear plug comfort and effectiveness come down to two main factors. The first is the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). Ear plug effectiveness is rated by NRR - for instance, if the ambient noise is 90 decibels (phones ringing, hair dryers operating, lawn mower outside), wearing NRR 30 earplugs will reduce the noise by about 30 decibels, bringing the noise you hear to 60 decibels (normal conversation level).
I contacted Mack's Ear Plugs and requested samples of their products to help facilitate this article and they very generously agreed. The first product I tried was the Snore Blockers. The combination of knowing how to properly wear earplugs and having earplugs with such a high NRR rating really made a huge difference in getting a sound sleep.
I'm not the only one in my family to appreciate the Snore Blockers. Ryan brought them along for a guys' sports road-trip and they were a massive help to drown out the snoring of his roommates (you know who you are!)
Factor 2: Shape and Feel
A second factor is shape and feel. The standard bright orange ear plugs, compliments of every airline, are tough and exert a lot of pressure on sensitive ears. But softer, smaller, and more gentle ear plugs actually do a better job of reducing noise than the denser, harder freebies.
Mack's Ultra Soft ear plugs lived up to their name and were incredibly soft and malleable. But they were my second choice after trying the Dreamgirl Soft ear plugs. I have to confess, I was reluctant to give them a try and was a bit suspicious of anything pink that was designed for girls but I quickly became a convert. Their slightly smaller size made them perfect for my "interesting" ears and I was able to use them night after night on our camping trip.
Some Travel Friendly Alternatives
In addition to traditional foam ear plugs, travellers can also use a moldable silicone putty, which can also double as ear sealers for swimming. They're excellent for anyone who hates putting anything in their ear canals. I gave them a test drive at the cottage and I'm happy to report there was no water leakage. There are also specialty ear plugs for musicians, commonly referred to as "Hi-Fi" style, and are important if your travels include tons of concerts.
Double Protection Doesn't Really Work
You can't double down on SPF when you wear different sunscreen products and when you wear noise cancelling headphones over ear plugs, you don't enjoy their combined NRR rating. At best, you gain an extra 5 decibels of NRR when both devices are used properly. By all means wear both if you have them (and are desperate), but you'll likely find it doesn't work as well as you hope. Many noise cancelling headphones are more geared towards style than function and Forbes has published a great article reviewing different models.
Since researching this article, I'm sleeping more soundly when I travel. I'm now taking earplugs with me on every trip and I no longer look at them as a last-resort. Knowing how to wear them properly has been a huge help, but that's nothing compared to finding ear plugs that are soft and gentle. If you're a fellow traveller who has given up certain forms of value accommodation because of noise concerns, I would urge you to reconsider and try these steps to enjoy sweet, silent, dreams!
I'd love to hear from you - what do you do to sleep soundly?
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like:
Does A Sleeping Bag Count As Carry-on?
Why We Stayed at a Holiday Inn in Stylish Singapore
Is This The Best Hostel In The World?