How to Sleep Better With an Ear Infection

Ear infections make sleeping difficult due to discomfort, pressure, and inflammation, especially when lying down. Fever and general uneasiness also contribute to poor sleep. To improve sleep, elevate your head, use a warm compress, take OTC pain relievers, and avoid lying on the affected ear. For babies, consult a pediatrician, elevate the crib, use a warm compress, feed upright, and provide comfort.

It’s hard to sleep when you’re sick. But there’s one illness that can make it especially hard to fall and stay asleep—and that’s an ear infection.

Why is figuring out how to sleep with an ear infection so difficult?

“The discomfort and pain from the pressure and inflammation in the middle ear make it challenging to sleep,” says Robert McLaughlin II, MD, board-certified orthopedic surgeon. “Lying down can exacerbate the feeling of pressure, leading to increased pain, which disrupts sleep.”

The fevers that often accompany ear infections can also make sleep more difficult. “Ear infections often come with fever and overall uneasiness, making it hard to find a comfortable sleeping position,” says Paul Daidone, MD, board-certified in internal medicine.

“The discomfort and pain from the pressure and inflammation in the middle ear make it challenging to sleep.”

Robert McLaughlin II, MD

So how, exactly, do you sleep with an ear infection? And if you have a baby with an ear infection, how can you help them get the sleep they need to overcome their infection and get better?

How to sleep with an ear infection

Let’s start with how to sleep with an ear infection in adults. If you’re an adult, tips for getting the best sleep possible when you’re dealing with an ear infection include:

Elevate your head

When you have an ear infection, your head positioning can play a major role in the quality of your sleep—and a slightly elevated position could make sleep easier.

“Sleeping with your head in a slightly elevated position can help reduce pressure in the ear canal, decreasing pain,” says Daidone. “Use extra pillows or a wedge pillow to keep your head elevated above your body.”

Try a warm compress

Another step you can take to manage your ear infection—and get a better night’s sleep in the process? Try a warm compress before bed.

“Before bed, apply a warm compress to the affected ear for about 10 to 15 minutes,” says Daidone. “This can help relieve pain and promote drainage of any fluid.”

Just make sure that the compress is warm, not hot. “Be sure not to make it too hot to avoid burns,” says Daidone.

Take an OTC pain reliever

As long as you have the OK from your doctor, you might also consider taking an OTC pain reliever before bed.

“Consult with a healthcare professional about taking over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen before bedtime,” says Daidone. “These can help manage pain and reduce fever, making it easier to fall asleep.”

The best sleep position for an ear infection

If you have an ear infection, some positions will help you sleep better—like sleeping on your back and (as mentioned earlier) slightly elevating your head.

“This position helps minimize pressure in the ear canals, reducing pain and discomfort,” says Daidone.

Lying on the unaffected side could also help improve sleep quality. “If one ear is more affected than the other, try sleeping on the side that’s not infected,” says Daidone. “This can help drain fluid from the affected ear and reduce pressure and pain.”

If you want to maximize your sleep when navigating an ear infection, then there’s one position you’ll definitely want to avoid—lying directly on the ear that’s infected.

“Lying directly on the affected ear can increase pressure and pain, making it more difficult to sleep,” says Daidone.

How to help a baby sleep with an ear infection

Ear infections are extremely common in children. So, how do you help a baby with an ear infection get better sleep?

The first thing you need to do is reach out to a doctor. “Consult a pediatrician for appropriate pain relief options for babies,” says Daidone.

Once you’ve gotten insights from the pediatrician, some other tips that may be able to help a baby with an ear infection sleep better include:

Adjust their crib

Babies generally don’t sleep with pillows like adults—which means you can’t elevate a baby’s head on a pillow.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t elevate their head at all; if they have an adjustable crib, then you may be able to create a similar elevation to a pillow—and help the baby get better sleep in the process.

“Elevating the head of the baby’s crib slightly can help as it mimics the adult strategy of using pillows for elevation,” says McLaughlin.

Try a warm compress

Warm compresses aren’t just effective for adults; they can also be helpful for babies.

“The use of a warm compress near but not on the ear might also soothe the baby and facilitate sleep,” says McLaughlin.

Again, just make sure the compress temperature isn’t too hot; otherwise, you risk burning the baby.

Feed in an upright position

If your baby struggling with an ear infection is still doing nighttime feedings, then it’s important to make it as easy as possible for that baby to fall asleep after they’re done eating—and that means minimizing any pain they experience.

“Feeding your baby in a more upright position can help ease ear pressure,” says Daidone. When that ear pressure is eased, they’ll experience less pain—making it easier to fall back asleep.

If they have a hard time falling back asleep? Try comforting them. “Rocking, gentle shushing, and soft humming can help soothe a baby struggling to sleep due to ear discomfort,” says Daidone.


What side should you sleep on with an ear infection?

If you have an ear infection, then you should sleep on the unaffected side—so, if your right ear is infected, you should sleep on your left side (and vice versa).

Why is an ear infection worse at night?

There are fewer distractions before you fall asleep—which can make ear infection symptoms feel more intense. Plus, lying down can increase the feeling of pressure in the ear, making it harder to fall asleep.

How do you fall asleep with an ear infection?

While everyone is different, some things that may help you fall asleep with an ear infection include slightly elevating your head, sleeping on the unaffected side, using a warm compress before bed, and taking OTC pain medication (as long as it’s approved by your doctor).

Can you get sick sleeping next to a sick person? Find out whether you should sleep in the same room as someone who’s sick.

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