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Getting a good night’s sleep is central to your physical and mental health. And, unfortunately, most of us have at least some trouble getting to or staying asleep regularly. Enter the sleep headphone, designed to fit more comfortably in your ears than traditional earbuds, block or cancel noise and provide specialized meditation content instead of (or in addition to) your favorite tunes.
We tested four popular pairs, and though we we acknowledge that fit and comfort may be subjective, depending on the size of your ears and what kind of sleeper you are (back or side), we’ve found one great pair that, based on our personal experience, should help a wide range of people get some better rest.
Best sleep headphones overall: Bose Sleepbuds II
$249 at Bose
The Bose Sleepbuds II are the best sleep headphones we tested. Not only are they the most comfortable of the competition for all-night wear, but even without the company’s beloved noise-canceling feature, they also gave us the most reliable seal, keeping out external noise like traffic and our biggest nighttime problem, our husband’s snoring. Plus, 50 different sound and white noise options are available via the simple-to-use companion app to further mask any disquiet, but alas, the Sleepbuds II won’t play any other music or personal audio; they’re strictly meant for rest.
The small, smooth earbuds fit comfortably in our ears — in fact, we’ve used no other earbud that has come close to being this comfy in any situation. Wing-style stabilizers help keep the Sleepbuds II in place, and we only lost an earbud in the bed once, missing it so much that we frantically searched until we located it under a pillow in the morning (Bose doesn’t sell single replacements, stating that the devices are “paired together during the manufacturing process,” so you’ll want to be careful).
The Sleepbuds II are a departure for Bose — not only do they not do any noise-canceling, but they don’t play music or any other content. They only work with the Bose Sleep app. To set up, you use the app to connect your Sleepbuds II to your phone via Bluetooth, and then choose from a range of 50 soothing sounds, grouped into categories such as Noise Masking, Naturescapes and Tranquilities. You simply click the “Add to Sleepbuds” button and load your choice directly onto the headphones themselves — and you can activate a Phone-Free mode and use them without having a device nearby (though you can’t change sounds or use the Sleepbuds II’s wake-up alarm mode in this mode). We appreciated this because we don’t keep our phone in the bedroom overnight for better sleep hygiene, and didn’t mind missing out on those features (the alarm was very subtle and didn’t wake us, though your mileage may vary).
While we found some of the nature-oriented audio clips too active and distracting for our taste, “Swell,” a white-noise-like crashing waves loop, worked for us. We set it to play for 1.5 hours each night, which effectively masked external sounds (including snoring) as advertised — and let us get to sleep and fall back asleep if we awakened during the night.
A round charging case with a sliding cover connects via USB-C; Bose says battery life is approximately 10 hours on a single charge but the charging case adds an additional three charges. In our testing, we never ran out of juice but appreciated the insurance of the extra hours in case we ever forget to plug them in or left the charger at home during a short trip.
But, most importantly, the Bose Sleepbuds II changed the way we sleep. No longer do we have murderous thoughts related to snoring, and we have been able to fall back asleep more often and for a longer period of time — including weekend mornings when a child or ravenous cat may wake us up earlier than we’d like. And for us, that kind of peace of mind is worth the price tag.
How we tested
We understand that anything that helps us sleep is subjective, and if you live in a city or anywhere with lots of outside noise, sleep next to a partner who snores or breathes heavily or have a health issue like tinnitus, you may need more help than others. To find the best pair of sleep headphones, we compared four different pairs to see if they would help induce a better slumber.
While any headphones could be used for listening to meditation or white noise content, we focused on headphones specifically intended as sleep aids, and on the latest true-wireless earbud-style products, which use very low-profile designs to provide the most comfortable sleeping experience. We didn’t look at headband-style sleep headphones like Moita Headband Headphones for this piece, but will examine those in the future.
For us, specifically, we approached these products with the goal of blocking out the general noises of downtown Brooklyn as well as our husband’s snoring. We spent at least three nights sleeping with each product. Before we started, we downloaded and created accounts for each one’s compatible app, experimented with each app’s features and charged and connected each headphone to our phone using Bluetooth.
We tested fit by lying on our side and our back before we went to sleep to see if the headphones became dislodged in any sleeping position. We also tested for noise isolation, range of sounds and usability. While usually we don’t have much of a problem getting to sleep, we tend to wake up and have difficulties getting back to sleep. For the three products that included a companion app with audio, we listened to a range of sounds for each headphone and decided to stick to available variations on a crashing waves sound at a medium-to-low volume for our nighttime testing. To assess how well the earbuds blocked external sound, we also listened to a dryer cycle and a CNN newscast on modest volume with each pair in our ears.
Lastly, we used our Apple Watch paired with Apple Health to track our sleep for each pair of sleep headphones and compared that to any tracking we received from the devices themselves.
Others we tested
$149.99 at Amazfit
The Amazfit ZenBuds were the runner-up for favorite sleep headphones. They come with a litany of advanced features, including built-in sleep tracking — something we had to rely on our Apple Watch for with the Bose Sleepbuds II.
The wireless earbuds are significantly smaller than the Sleepbuds II and come with a U-shaped fin, which did not easily fit our ears for overnight security. And, though Amazfits come with four different-sized soft, silicone eartips — one more than Bose — their significantly smaller shape didn’t work as well for us. They sat too deeply in our ears while we slept, which made the entire experience less satisfying. They did mask noise but not as well as our top pick.
The ZenBuds offer some advanced functions that go beyond what the Sleepbuds II can do. Once you insert the ZenBuds in your ears, sound playback begins automatically. While with the Bose you set a timer to control how long playback continues, a sleep detection feature turns off the ZenBuds once you fall asleep. As with Bose, an alarm function is available, and the ZenBuds can’t play music or any other content.
The Zepp companion app, which controls sound playback and allows you to track sleep, health and fitness data, much like Apple Health, was finicky during our testing, freezing and closing on two different iPhones. Once we got everything stabilized and connected, we found the app offers a larger library of sounds than Bose, including categories like Rest and Focus, which you could use during the day to meditate as well. We used Beach and Waves for our sleep noise, which felt less like white noise and more like loud surf. In fact, we had to turn the volume down all the way so it didn’t keep us awake. The sleep tracking feature was effective, generating data comparable to what we got from our Apple Watch, plus information on sleeping position.
The headphones will provide 12 hours of playback on a single charge, and the charging case will give you another 56 hours should you leave your charger behind.
$249.99 $199 at Kokoon
The Kokoon Nightbuds were our least favorite sleep headphones. An unwieldy design consisting of a bulky volume module held on the back of your head via a lumpy cable, the earbuds loop around your ears to help block noise but the entire contraption was extremely uncomfortable for us to sleep with. In fact, the first night we used them, we woke up with pain in our ears and pulled them off. The next night we couldn’t even get to sleep wearing them so we had to admit defeat. Another tester managed to wear them for eight nights, but was also never able to get comfortable, especially when sleeping on their side, which caused ear pain.
Comfort was a dealbreaker for us, though the Kokoon Nightbuds are very well-spec’d. The very full-featured app not only lets you set up a sleep schedule with an alarm to wake you in the morning, but like the Amazfit earbuds, it detects when you fall asleep, and then lets you decide to have your chosen noise fade out gradually or even tune it to “colored noise” once it senses you’ve fallen asleep. You can choose from a library of built-in sounds in four categories (Going to Sleep, Feeling Anxious, Disrupted Sleep and Brighter Mornings) or listen to your own music or audio. So if you’re happier playing Spotify or your Calm app to help you drift to sleep, that’s your prerogative. They also include a sleep-tracking function, though this was not very effective compared to our favorite sleep trackers. The Kokoons only recorded one full night of the eight we attempted to track, and the measurements didn’t line up with our other tracking devices.
$269 at QuietOn
The QuietOn 3 are more like an extremely high-end pair of active noise canceling earplugs than an all-around sleep machine. The QuietOn 3 earbuds are self-contained, don’t use Bluetooth to pair with an app, won’t help track your sleep and include no extra sounds for noise masking. Rather, they use ANC to block outside noise, and they’re constructed from a soft foam instead of hard plastic elements like the other sleep-oriented earbuds we tried.
We found the soft material difficult to get a secure fit with — they’re very different from traditional headphones, and after three nights, we still can’t be sure we had them at peak performance. They never felt quite comfortable and fell out of our ears on several occasions. The company will replace a single earbud for 80€ plus a 20€ shipping fee (or $88.73 plus a $22.18 shipping fee), but you’ll need to contact customer service directly.
The QuietOn’s noise canceling filters out most low-frequency noise like traffic and snoring very effectively, feeling strangely isolating in comparison with earbuds that played white noise or ambient sounds. If you want absolute quiet, however, this may be exactly what you’re looking for — though it didn’t quite do it for us.
The sleek, white oval charging case flips open to reveal two traditional-looking plastic, lightweight earbuds, sans wings. They are also the smallest of the models we tested because they don’t include a Bluetooth transmitter or much other componentry. QuietOn says battery life is about 28 hours on a single charge and offers another two nights from the case.