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Vision & Hearing Features

Is it dangerous to sleep with earphones in?

Many of us like to drop off listening to a podcast or some music. But is falling into a deep sleep wearing earbuds really a good idea?
Dangers of sleeping with earphones in
Discover whether falling asleep wearing earphones can damage your hearing or general health.
Rédaction Supersmart.
2023-04-04Commentaires (0)

Falling asleep wearing earphones: a risky practice?

Though we may like to be rocked off to sleep by our favorite hit songs, sleeping with earbuds in is not necessarily a good habit to get into for several reasons.

Firstly, listening to all kinds of sounds throughout the night (even at low volume) increases the risk of hearing problems (1). This is not only due to the prolonged listening period but also to increased fragility of our eardrums: as blood flow decreases when we’re asleep, the ears are less resistant to noise disturbance. This can result in premature hearing loss as well as ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus) (2).

Since music is known to reduce feelings of stress, it should logically make it easier to fall asleep. Paradoxically however, several studies have shown that playing your favorite playlist just before you drop off leads to worse-quality sleep.

This is because of involuntary musical imagery, better known as ‘earworms’ (3-4). In other words, a particular song remains stuck in your head, to the point where it’s still playing on a loop when you wake up. This problem is more likely to occur when attention is lower (as in the evening).

These nocturnal earworms can be quite invasive, potentially extending the time it takes to fall asleep, causing more wakefulness during the night and destabilizing the sleep cycle (with a shift from deep sleep to lighter sleep).

There are various reports, which although exceptional, also give pause for thought. A case of fatal electrocution was reported in a Malaysian teenager who had fallen asleep wearing his earbuds plugged into his phone on charge. Another young man, wearing Apple’s famous AirPods, accidentally swallowed one of his wireless earbuds during the night (his smartphone located it in his stomach in the early hours). Fortunately, he was none the worse after it passed through his system with the aid of laxatives.

Last but not least, there’s a continuing debate around the impact of wireless technologies on health. While no scientific study has so far established a link between radio waves (such as Bluetooth) and brain or acoustic nerve tumors, the theory has not been completely rejected due to the proximity of the earphones to the auditory canal (5-7).

Natural tips for maintaining your hearing

To take care of your ears and keep your hearing sharp, it’s a good idea to adopt a few common-sense measures:

To curb hearing loss, it’s also wise to adopt a diet rich in antioxidants (red berries, green and orange vegetables, tea, cocoa …), as well as in vitamins C (citrus fruit, peppers, kiwi fruit…) and E (vegetable oils, almonds …) which help fight oxidative stress (12). These will counteract the harmful effects of free radicals on the hair cells of the inner ear, which are crucial to sound perception.

In addition, magnesium appears to be closely linked to glutathione, a powerful cellular shield (particularly auditory cells) (13). It also supports normal nervous system function by mediating the transmission of sound signals via the auditory nerve (14). To ensure a good intake, focus on whole grains, nuts and dark chocolate.

Certain plants can also boost auditory protection by addressing the vascular component in order to improve oxygenation of ear tissue. One such plant is gingko biloba, also known as the ‘tree of the 40 shields’, which helps maintain good peripheral circulation and especially auditory health (15). It can be found in targeted synergistic supplements (the comprehensive formulation Hear Loss Formula contains gingko, magnesium, vitamins D and E as well as cutting-edge compounds such as alpha-lipoic acid and quercetin) (16-17).

Less well-known, the lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) helps maintain good mental health, especially in elderly individuals, due to its content of vincamine, an alkaloid effective at oxygenating the brain. Its effects on microcirculation have attracted so much scientific interest that it now features in supplements targeted at auditory health (like the natural formulation OptiHear, in which it’s combined with gingko and zinc for enhanced efficacy at fighting oxidative stress in ear cells) (19).

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References

  1. Byeon H. Associations between adolescents' earphone usage in noisy environments, hearing loss, and self-reported hearing problems in a nationally representative sample of South Korean middle and high school students. Medicine (Baltimore). 2021 Jan 22;100(3):e24056. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000024056. PMID: 33546006; PMCID: PMC7837842.
  2. Choi JH, Park SS, Kim SY. Associations of Earphone Use with Tinnitus and Anxiety/Depression. Noise Health. 2021 Oct-Dec;23(111):108-116. doi: 10.4103/nah.NAH_48_20. PMID: 34975126; PMCID: PMC8772443.
  3. Scullin MK, Gao C, Fillmore P. Bedtime Music, Involuntary Musical Imagery, and Sleep. Psychol Sci. 2021 Jul;32(7):985-997. doi: 10.1177/0956797621989724. Epub 2021 Jun 9. PMID: 34105416; PMCID: PMC8641138.
  4. Euser AM, Oosterhoff M, van Balkom I. Stuck song syndrome: musical obsessions - when to look for OCD. Br J Gen Pract. 2016 Feb;66(643):90. doi: 10.3399/bjgp16X683629. PMID: 26823252; PMCID: PMC4723199.
  5. Repacholi MH, Lerchl A, Röösli M, Sienkiewicz Z, Auvinen A, Breckenkamp J, d'Inzeo G, Elliott P, Frei P, Heinrich S, Lagroye I, Lahkola A, McCormick DL, Thomas S, Vecchia P. Systematic review of wireless phone use and brain cancer and other head tumors. Bioelectromagnetics. 2012 Apr;33(3):187-206. doi: 10.1002/bem.20716. Epub 2011 Oct 21. PMID: 22021071.
  6. Mandalà M, Colletti V, Sacchetto L, Manganotti P, Ramat S, Marcocci A, Colletti L. Effect of Bluetooth headset and mobile phone electromagnetic fields on the human auditory nerve. 2014 Jan;124(1):255-9. doi: 10.1002/lary.24103. Epub 2013 Apr 25. PMID: 23619813.
  7. Miller AB, Sears ME, Morgan LL, Davis DL, Hardell L, Oremus M, Soskolne CL. Risks to Health and Well-Being From Radio-Frequency Radiation Emitted by Cell Phones and Other Wireless Devices. Front Public Health. 2019 Aug 13;7:223. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2019.00223. PMID: 31457001; PMCID: PMC6701402.
  8. Kwak C, Han W. The Effectiveness of Hearing Protection Devices: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 7;18(21):11693. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182111693. PMID: 34770206; PMCID: PMC8583416.
  9. Widen SE, Båsjö S, Möller C, Kähäri K. Headphone listening habits and hearing thresholds in swedish adolescents. Noise Health. 2017 May-Jun;19(88):125-132. doi: 10.4103/nah.NAH_65_16. PMID: 28615542; PMCID: PMC5501022.
  10. Hobson JC, Lavy JA. Use and abuse of cotton buds. J R Soc Med. 2005 Aug;98(8):360-1. doi: 10.1177/014107680509800808. PMID: 16055901; PMCID: PMC1181836.
  11. Landefeld K, Bart RM, Lau H, et al. Surfer's Ear. [Updated 2022 Aug 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534874/
  12. Petridou AI, Zagora ET, Petridis P, Korres GS, Gazouli M, Xenelis I, Kyrodimos E, Kontothanasi G, Kaliora AC. The Effect of Antioxidant Supplementation in Patients with Tinnitus and Normal Hearing or Hearing Loss: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo Controlled Trial. 2019 Dec 12;11(12):3037. doi: 10.3390/nu11123037. PMID: 31842394; PMCID: PMC6950042.
  13. Regan RF, Guo Y. Magnesium deprivation decreases cellular reduced glutathione and causes oxidative neuronal death in murine cortical cultures. Brain Res. 2001 Jan 26;890(1):177-83. doi: 10.1016/s0006-8993(00)03156-5. PMID: 11164781.
  14. Sendowski I, Holy X, Raffin F, et al. Magnesium and hearing loss. In: Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507266/
  15. von Boetticher A. Ginkgo biloba extract in the treatment of tinnitus: a systematic review. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2011;7:441-7. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S22793. Epub 2011 Jul 28. PMID: 21857784; PMCID: PMC3157487.
  16. Quaranta N, Dicorato A, Matera V, D'Elia A, Quaranta A. The effect of alpha-lipoic acid on temporary threshold shift in humans: a preliminary study. Acta Otorhinolaryngol Ital. 2012 Dec;32(6):380-5. PMID: 23349557; PMCID: PMC3552536.
  17. Ma YK, Chen YB, Li P. Quercetin inhibits NTHi-triggered CXCR4 activation through suppressing IKKα/NF-κB and MAPK signaling pathways in otitis media. Int J Mol Med. 2018 Jul;42(1):248-258. doi: 10.3892/ijmm.2018.3577. Epub 2018 Mar 20. PMID: 29568908; PMCID: PMC5979834.
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