SOUND OF SILENCE
Siobhan Grogan on the top sleep earphones for a quiet night
There’s nothing worse than being kept awake at night. Whether it’s a snoring partner or a racket outside the window, unwelcome sounds in the bedroom can make dropping off impossible.
Although it’s recommended that adults up to the age of 64 need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, Mental Health UK says one in five people in the UK aren’t getting enough
sleep. This can cause reduced immunity, poor mood, a lack of energy during the day and even depression. So, if noise is stopping your shut eye, it could be time to invest in a pair of sleep headphones.
Resembling regular headphones, they use either active noise cancelling technology (ANC) – listening for external noise and cancelling it – or passive noise cancellation (physically sealing out noise) to help you sleep. ANC works better with consistent, repetitive noises like snoring or aeroplane noise, while some headphones using passive noise cancellation also offer noise masking – playing ambient white noise once you’re asleep to cover unexpected disturbances like a siren outside.
It’s important to check the headphones will suit your needs before you buy. Some will only play music from the brand’s own content library so you won’t be able to drop off to your favourite podcast. Others include an alarm so you won’t need to worry about sleeping through your own – essential if you plan to use the headphones every night and don’t want to be repeatedly late for work.
Think about how you sleep too. Headphones that protrude from the ear won’t work well for side sleepers, while sleep bands may be unsuitable for anyone who gets very hot in bed. And if you really struggle sleeping or intend to use the headphones every night, it’s best to choose ones designed for lying down to ensure they’re as comfortable as possible.
The only downside of dedicated sleep headphones is they do tend to be pricey. If you want to really get your money’s worth or only intend to use them occasionally, you might prefer to choose headphones that can also be used during the day to play music or take calls. We’ve also included some pairs that are more useful for pre-sleep relaxing or for snoozing when travelling, rather than in bed.
How we tested
We wore each of these headphones in bed every night for several weeks to find the one that felt the most comfortable and helped us enjoy a blissfully silent night, even when faced with outside
noise and a snoring partner. We also tried each pair while travelling on both aeroplanes and trains to see if they cancelled exterior noise so we could read or nap without hearing chatter. For each pair, we judged how they fit, if they stayed in place all night long if appropriate and if they really did keep noise out. We also rated battery life and extra functions including any apps that worked alongside the device. These are the ones that should (hopefully) help you snooze in peace.
Kokoon nightbuds sleep headphones: £160.99, Kokoon
We were definitely a little confused when we first opened this box. These headphones don’t look like traditional earbuds and are even wired to a control unit designed to be positioned at the nape of the neck. Wearing them was a revelation though. The headphones themselves are very light and thin and once we found the right size ear-tip for us (which took a little experimenting) we didn’t find them a problem even when sleeping on our side.
As these work with passive noise cancellation – literally blocking out noise with a physical seal – it is very important to take the time to find the perfect fit. These were also the only headphones we tested with a loop over our ears which made them much
more secure than others and they never fell out during the night – or when we used them when we were out running.
The real bonus is you can choose how you use them. Unlike much cheaper versions, they can stream any playlist you choose, but they also have an excellent, comprehensive app which provides useful guided meditation sessions, storyscapes and soothing noises which we found surprisingly effective.
We also loved the fact that sensors monitor when you drop off and fade any audio once you’re asleep. Smart noise masking then kicks in to stop further disturbances – like snoring or a dog barking – from waking you. The app also provides nightly sleep tracking which will help reassure you that with these headphones in, you’re sleeping better than ever before.
Buy now QuietOn 3.1 sleep earbuds: £249, QuietOn
Masking noises with other noise – even if it is your favourite music – isn’t the answer for everyone. We prefer to sleep in silence and don’t usually need to listen to white noise or meditations to drop off, but we’re very easily woken by external noise. If you crave quiet and find traditional earplugs just aren’t good enough, these earbuds will wow you.
They look just like smaller in-ear headphones and use premium ANC technology but won’t actually play any sound at all. They don’t have Bluetooth capabilities, feature any transmitters or emit any electromagnetic field radiation. So, you won’t need to pair them with an app or keep your phone by the bed, yet they really do stop noise. Just find the included foam ear-tip that fits the best and settle down for the night.
We loved the no-fuss approach, found them soft and comfortable to wear and have never slept better since we started using them. If you want to listen to music as you drop off, they’re not for you, but if you’re a light sleeper stuck with a snorer, they’re a game-changing – albeit pricey – bedroom essential.
Buy now Navly sleep headphones Bluetooth v5.2: £19.99, Amazon
Don’t splash too much cash if you just want to listen to an occasional guided meditation as you drop off and don’t require ANC. These budget headphones are far less pricey than any of the other headphones we tested and ideal for using once in a while.
The speakers are inside a soft blue sports headband which is surprisingly comfortable to wear. They don’t actually fit inside the ear so we thought we’d feel them when we slept on our side but they didn’t bother us at all. Be aware that despite appearances, the headband can’t be worn as a sleep mask at the same time as the speakers were then too low for our ears.
There’s no library of content with these ones so they’re best suited for anyone who wants to play their own music or podcasts. They connected quickly over Bluetooth and have a small panel at the front for controlling the music or answering phone calls with the built-in microphone. Just make sure you leave more time to get ready the next day as we woke with flatas-a-pancake hair after wearing these overnight.
Buy now Sony LinkBuds s true wireless noise cancelling in-ear headphones: £139, AO
If you’re looking for one pair of headphones that does everything, these Sony earbuds are a great buy. Though they’re not designed specifically for sleeping, they are some of the most lightweight and comfortable in-ear headphones we’ve ever tried so we could largely forget we had them in. The earbud’s flat exterior meant they didn’t even bother us lying on our side while
relaxing. In fact, the first time we used them listening to music before sleeping, we dropped off while wearing them – though it would really be best to remove them before you do.
Though there are cheaper earbuds available, the fit and noisecancelling capabilities of these really make them worth the extra cash. Even when we weren’t playing music through them, they stopped us hearing our partner’s snores so they’d be perfect on a noisy flight or in an office if you need peace. Noise cancelling can be adjusted even further through the Sony app too.
Sound quality is excellent and the impressive 20-hour battery life means they won’t need a daily charge. We liked the fact the controls were on the headphones themselves too, so we didn’t need to scramble about to find our phone when we were trying to wind down. They even work with Amazon Alexa if you really don’t want to lift a finger.
SnoozeBand Bluetooth sleep headphones: £39.99, SnoozeBand
Another headband style set, these great value headphones can also be worn as an eye mask so they’re a good choice if you need to block out light as well as noise. The band is extremely comfortable to wear and we couldn’t feel the soft, thin speakers
at all when we slept on our side. They could also be worn for running if you don’t like using buds inside your ear.
They’re extremely simple to use. There’s no app or paired content, you simply link to your phone via Bluetooth and play whatever you want through them, making them ideal if you want to choose what you listen to. Once charged with the included USB cable – which takes about an hour – they’ll play for around 10 hours so you can even have a lie in. While they won’t completely block out deafening snorers, they’ll make sure you can snooze in comfort to the sound of your choice.
Soundcore sleep A10 earbuds: £119.99, Amazon
If you’re keen on an in-ear style but don’t want them attached to a control unit like the Kokoon earphones (£160.99, Kokoon), these are the ones to go for. They look exactly like ordinary earbuds with a charging case and four sizes of ear-tips to ensure they’re snug, although they’re a little bigger than some other sleep headphones so are better suited to back sleepers.
They don’t have ANC but use noise masking to cover up external sounds with other noise. A smart volume control can automatically adjust this to minimise sleep disruption. It’s
possible to choose from any audio you prefer or the range of noises and tracks available on the accompanying Soundcore app. This will also monitor your sleep to track the quality of your shut-eye, pause audio when you fall asleep and play a personal alarm – helpful if you don’t want to wake your partner. A good buy all round for a great night’s sleep if you’d rather avoid active noise cancellation.
Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones: £249.95, Bose
Though you can’t actually wear these while sleeping, these Bose headphones are by far the most comfortable model we tested for winding down with music in bed before sleeping. The synthetic leather cups are astonishingly soft and feather-light so we barely felt like we were wearing them at all, which really helped us switch off and relax.
They were easy to set up and pair via Bluetooth, while the sound quality is impeccable so you can really focus on a playlist or meditation and zone out of external noise ready for sleep. Noise cancellation is astonishing too – we wore these on a long plane journey and couldn’t hear the sound of the engines at all.
If you’re wearing them out and about during the day though, it’s easy to switch to “aware mode” to hear external noises when you need to be, well, aware of your surroundings instead. Ideal if you want blissfully comfortable, wear-all-day headphones that you’re happy to slip off just before you drop off.
Cambridge Audio melomania touch true wireless headphones: £99.95, Cambridge Audio
These headphones use passive noise cancellation to create a seal and physically block out annoying noise. While they’re not purposely designed for sleeping, we found this made them great for keeping out unwanted sounds, even when we didn’t want to actually play music or a podcast. They were also better at preventing sudden noises than ones using ANC if, for instance, you want to drop off on your commute without hearing every station announcement.
To ensure they work at their best, it’s important to ensure they fit perfectly which is why the headphones come with a selection of silicone fins and ear tips so you can find the best ones. Once we did, they were unbelievably comfy so they didn’t get on our nerves even when lying on our side – though it is better to remove them before you actually go to sleep.
They also have a 50-hour battery life with nine hours continuous play, truly excellent sound quality and an effective transparency mode if you do want to be aware of your surroundings (or don’t want to sleep past your station). A fantastic buy all round.
It all comes down to individual preference on this one, however, the Kokoon nightbuds sleep headphones are the best all-rounder for comfort, noise cancellation and the extensive range of audio offered by the app. But if you’d prefer the sweet sound of silence, go straight for the remarkable QuietOn 3.1 sleep earbuds.
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