See the article about firearms for an introduction. Here, I’ll focus on sleeping with earplugs rather than the other activities. The list is ordered subjectively, from the best to the worst.
Sadly, my ear canals tend to start getting itchy after a few nights, and I haven’t managed to trace that to any particular cause (hygiene, material).
PU foam, SNR 37 dB. Cheap, and fairly resistant to staining. They’ve proven themselves awesome for sleeping.
As with all polyurethane foam earplugs, proper insertion takes some time to learn. Initially, I was very afraid of going too deep--these days, I’ve noticed I just go level with my earholes, and rather hold my fingers in place for a while to prevent earplugs from pushing themselves out.
Be careful not to hurt your eardrums when pulling anything out of your ear canals. Wasting a few seconds slowly wiggling these out beats having to deal with pain.
PU foam, SNR ±34 dB (NRR 32 dB). More easily stained with ear wax than 3M 1100--this needs to be removed under water before reuse (soap isn’t strictly necessary, but I prefer to use it), and then you have to let them slowly dry out. Also unlike 3M 1100, these elongate when rolled up, and work better when inserted too shallowly.
PU foam, SNR ±34 dB (NRR 33 dB). In my opinion, an expensive, less comfortable version of 3M 1100, without the glossy coating. Strangely porous.
Soft slats, SNR 25 dB. Sleeping on the side may take some position searching, and you may succeed in wiggling them out, but they’re generally great, somehow just get wet rather than stained, and don’t need to be discarded after a few uses, unlike the rest here. Though I’ve started getting weird cracking/popping sounds upon movement after a bunch of uses, probably due to a failing seal.
PU foam, SNR ±31 dB (NRR 29 dB). These seem to be a bit too slim/small for me, making them the most problematic polyurethane plugs to insert, and for no perceptable advantage.
Wax, SNR 27 dB. Finicky to set up, what with removing all the surrounding cotton and softening them up in hand, and I’m afraid of pushing them in way too deep. They wiggle out too easily when sleeping on the side. But thanks to their smaller size, they’re also fairly comfortable, and they don’t absorb earwax.
PU foam, SNR 36 dB. Unsuitable for sleeping with--too much pressure when lying on my side.
PU foam, SNR 39 dB. After a longer period, they get super uncomfortable, and seem to have woken me up. But the shape is quite friendly, as it seems impossible to stick them in too deeply. They also provide the strongest attenuation.
Silicone putty, SNR 24 dB. It’s tricky for me to get a good seal, and then my ear can hurt slightly from the pressure of my attempts. Somewhat surprisingly, they survive eating (jaw movements). Particularly uncomfortable for sleeping on the side, because it’s a big blob of silicone that gets pushed in. On the plus side, they’re a lot more hygienic.
Adding background noise is similarly effective, even if I’m not particularly comfortable with putting a constant load on my hearing. Plus, it seems to work as an alarm clock--I get woken up by the sudden absence, despite making playback fade out gradually. Though I don’t expect any great reliability here, and I haven’t measured the delay yet either.