How to Sleep with an Ear Infection – 9 Doctor Advised Tips

Woman with ear infection trying to sleep

An ear infection is painful enough during the day, but for some people, that discomfort can be even more intense during the night. Figuring out how to sleep with an ear infection can be pretty frustrating, and as a result, people with this condition often don’t get the rest they need. 

If you’re sick of your ear infection disrupting your sleep, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve researched some of the best doctor-advised tips to help you get your full eight hours. 

These tips are quick, effective, and don’t require any prescriptions. So no matter what your situation may be, there’s likely something on this list that’ll help you. 

As you read on, we’ll cover nine different tips to help you sleep with an ear infection. We’ll also discuss the causes of ear infections, how to treat them, and when it may be time to see a professional. And while many ear infection resources focus on kids, rest assured that these tips can be equally helpful for adults. 

What Causes an Ear Infection? 

Wondering why you have an ear infection in the first place? The issue probably lies in a virus or bacterial infection. This is why many people develop an ear infection after a cold or the flu. 

When bacteria get into the inner ear, it can cause blockage and swelling in the euchastian tube. Because children have smaller euchastian tubes, they are more prone to ear infections than adults. 

As the euchastian tube swells, it can cause fluid to build up inside the ear. This excess fluid contributes to the pain and discomfort people experience with ear infections. 

How is an Ear Infection Diagnosed? 

If you think you have an ear infection, you should see a doctor to receive a diagnosis. There are many different causes for ear pain, and ear infections are just one of them. 

Once you visit your doctor, they will ask you about your symptoms. Then, they will use an otoscope to examine your inner ear. If there is any inflammation in your eardrum, they can provide an official diagnosis for your ear infection. 

How Ear Infections Affect Sleep 

Because they cause pain and discomfort, ear infections can make it quite difficult to sleep. As a result, people with ear infections may find themselves tossing and turning until sunrise. 

Why are Ear Infections Worse at Night? 

Ear infections are often worse at night, especially with kids. This is because nighttime is when cortisol levels are at their lowest

This hormone helps your body tolerate pain. So when your cortisol levels are lower, your ear infection may feel like it’s getting worse. 

9 Tips for Sleeping with an Ear Infection 

Here are a few helpful tips for sleeping with an ear infection. No matter the severity of your infection, these tips are likely to ease your pain and help you relax. 

1. Elevation (aka Sleeping Upright)

Can’t find the right sleeping position? You may want to consider sleeping upright tonight. 

When you sleep upright, your ears will have a much easier time draining. This can help promote improvement in your ear infection in the long run. 

Sleeping upright can even help reduce pressure in your ears—a significant source of the pain associated with ear infections. 

Consider stacking some pillows behind your back tonight to provide some extra elevation. Or, you could even try sleeping in a reclining chair. 

How to Sleep with an Ear Infection in Both Ears 

Finding the right way to sleep can be even more of a challenge when you have an infection in both ears. 

So if you have an infection on both sides, sleeping upright is probably your best option. It can help save you the hassle of finding the most comfortable sleeping position, an issue many people with double ear infections face during the night. 

2. Over-the-Counter Painkillers 

An hour or so before you go to bed tonight, consider taking a couple of over-the-counter painkillers. Taking some medication can help ease the pain and make sleeping much easier. 

Be sure to only take the recommended amount; it may be tempting to take an extra dose if the medication doesn’t help, but using too many painkillers can pose a risk to your health. 

Also, check that your painkillers won’t interact with any other medications you may be taking for your ear infection. 

3. Sip and Swallow 

Another tip for managing your ear infection pain is to drink plenty of fluids. 

Drinking a lot of water before bed can be problematic for children, however. So you should reserve this method for adults, or make sure your kids use the bathroom before getting into bed. 

Hot drinks such as tea can be even more helpful for an ear infection. The steam from the drink can help open up blocked sinuses, which are often a contributing factor to pressure in the ear. 

4. How to Sleep With an Ear Infection Positions 

Do you sleep in the same position every night? Changing things up can be hard at first, but adjusting your position may be the key to helping you sleep better with an ear infection. 

The best sleeping positions for an ear infection are ones that will reduce the pressure within your ear canal. 

It may be helpful to lay on your side, with your non-infected ear facing down. 

Or, as we mentioned earlier, sleeping in an elevated position can be efficient, especially if you have an infection in both ears. 

5. Apply Heat With a Warm Compress

Applying heat could help soothe the pain in your infected ear. You can either use a microwavable rice pouch or an electric heating pad, depending on what you have available. 

If you use an electric heating pad, however, make sure it has an automatic shut-off function–sleeping on it for too long could result in burns.  

6. Sleep on a Memory Foam Pillow With the Correct Height

If you have a memory foam pillow in your home, now’s the best time to make use of it! 

A memory foam pillow can keep you at a comfortable elevation and position throughout the night, which is more important than ever when dealing with an ear infection. 

7. Follow a Sleep Routine to Get to Sleep Faster

Do you have a nighttime routine? If not, now might be the time to start. Your brain will have a much easier time switching over to sleeping mode when you have a set routine before bed. 

Be sure to eliminate any external distractions such as TVs, and turn off your phone if necessary. Try to go to bed at your usual time, too, and change into something comfortable. And if possible, consider drinking some decaffeinated tea before heading off to bed. 

8. Can an Ear Infection Be Prevented or Avoided? 

To ensure better sleep in the future, it can be helpful to try and avoid ear infections altogether. Practice thorough hygiene to help fight off bacteria and viruses that cause ear infections. 

Cleaning your ears often can help, too—but with medically-approved ear drops, not Q-tips

9. Chew Gum, Eat a Snack, or Drink Water to Relieve Pressure

Did you know that chewing helps relieve pressure in the ear canal? To help ease some of your discomfort, consider chewing some gum or eating a light snack before going to bed. 

How to Sleep With an Ear Infection Adults vs. Kids

Because they’re more common in the younger population, a lot of ear infection advice is kid-oriented. However, these tips are just as helpful for adults as they would be for kids. 

Over-the-counter meds, sleeping upright, and adjusting your sleep routine are the most effective methods on this list for adults. 

As long as you use the proper medication doses and use your best judgment, adults and children alike can have a peaceful sleep while dealing with an ear infection. 

When Should I See a Doctor for an Ear Infection? 

In most cases, home remedies and plenty of rest are all you need to treat an ear infection. But there are some situations where you should seek medical attention for an ear infection. 

Look out for symptoms such as: 

  • Swelling in the external ear 
  • Difficulty moving the face 
  • High fevers (especially over 103 Fahrenheit) 
  • Bleeding from the ear 
  • Significant hearing loss 
  • Seizures 

If you or your child show any of these symptoms, it could be a sign of a more severe infection. These require immediate medical attention, so be sure to seek a professional immediately. 

Final Thoughts 

Getting some much-needed rest when you’re dealing with an ear infection can be pretty hard, but with these tips in mind, you’ll have a much easier time falling asleep. And when you get adequate rest, you’ll have a much easier time recovering from your ear infection. 

If you are still having trouble sleeping after trying these tips, you may want to seek advice from your doctor. They’ll be able to provide more helpful advice for your situation. 

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