Earplugs vs Headphones: Comparing Noise Cancelling Flight Sleeping Aids

As someone who travels a lot, I struggle with those overnight flights where you leave the U.S. late in the evening and land in another country early in the morning or mid-day there. This means that you have about a seven to nine hour flight and when you land, it is too early to check into your hotel.

That gives you two options when it comes to sleeping –

  • sleep on the plane and arrive somewhat rested
  • stay awake on the plane and arrive a bit exhausted

Obviously, you want to make the most of your trip, which means that if you’re like me, then you want to be able to do a few things once you arrive and go to bed at a normal hour. With that in mind, sleeping on the plane becomes a real necessity. But have you ever tried to sleep on a plane? It’s terrible and almost impossible, right? I once took an overnight flight from Los Angeles to NYC and the people directly behind me kept their overhead lights on and talked loudly the entire flight. That means that noise blocking is the only real solution to getting quality sleep on a plane.

Comparing Noise Blocking Options for Travelers

After giving it some thought, I realized that there are really only a few options available to travelers when you want to be able to block out the noise of others on the plane, as well as the actual airplane noise. I know that some people will just take a sleeping pill, but that doesn’t work out too well for me as I end up feeling super groggy once the plane lands and I’m awake again. For me, the only real available options are:

  • noise cancelling headphones
  • ear plugs
  • noise cancelling app on phone + ear buds or headphones

Before shelling out some cash on the noise cancelling headphones, let me give you something to thing about – how comfortable do you really think that you can get in a cramped airplane seat with some bulky headphones. Yeah, it’s not idea. Don’t get me wrong, those headphones are great at blocking out noise, but not super comfy for long term wearing while sleeping on a plane. That being said, I do think that the baby hearing protection headphones are a good idea for the little ones.

Since I sleep with a sound spa machine that makes the rain storm noises, I decided that maybe using one of the noise cancelling apps on my iPhone that offers a rain drops sound file would be the best solution for me. Plus, it is a super cheap solution. However, there ended up being two things wrong with this plan for me – the battery on my phone doesn’t last for the duration of the flight and my regular ear buds are not comfortable to keep in my ears for long periods. That being said, I do think that this could be a workable and inexpensive solution to this sleeping problem if you are on a flight where your battery will last (or there is a charging port) and you have ear buds to ear that are comfortable and don’t leave your ears sore after a few hours.

As you may have already guessed, the ear plugs are my favorite solution for getting quality sleep when traveling on an overnight international flight. Not only did they give me the most comfortable sleep while on the airplane, but they are also the cheapest AND they take up the least amount of space in your carry-on bag! The key is finding some ear plugs that offer a high NRR rating. You can always find them on Amazon (see my favorite options in the link above) and some local stores also have them in-stock. For a recent trip, I’d forgotten or order any ear plugs and I scrambled to find a pair at a local store. Surprisingly, a local pharmacy had some NRR 32 ones that I got, but they were much more expensive that then ones that I get from Amazon. So, do know that you might be able to get them at local shops, but you will likely pay more for the same thing you can get online.