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There are few things in life worse than being tired but unable to fall asleep. People around the world have special rituals to help soothe themselves to sleep, but one size doesn’t fit all. Whereas some people need complete darkness and complete silence, others may need music or a white noise machine. That’s where the best sleep headphones come into play.
Turns out, listening to music or relaxing sounds before bed can help promote better sleep. We talked to Dr. Michael Breus, sleep medicine expert and the founder of The Sleep Doctor website, who said, “relaxing music triggers changes to the body that in many ways mimic a sleep state. A slower heart rate, slower breathing, lower blood pressure are all physiological changes that make possible the process of falling asleep and staying asleep.”
Breus continued: “Music also has a soothing effect on our emotional brain, easing stress and anxiety. I would argue, If you’re listening to music that relaxes you before bed, you’re essentially helping to “tune” your body to sleep mode, both physically and psychologically.
If you need help getting the recommended eight hours of shut-eye each night, it might be time to invest in some sleeping headphones that promote relaxation and fight the effects of background noise. To help you find the best headphones for sleeping, we’ve highlighted several different types, including a few headband headphone options, Bluetooth headphones, and earbuds that nestle into your ear canal to block out ambient noise. Keep reading for sounder sleep.
Best headphones for sleeping
How we tested the best headphones for sleep
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- Noise cancellation: A snoring simulation was played at high volume near our bedside to test the headphones’ ability to block out environmental noises.
- Comfort: Sleeping with too much pressure against the head can cause headaches. Headphones were tested in each sleeping position — side, back and stomach — to determine ear tip comfort, stableness of earbuds in the ear and how accommodating they felt from the perspective of different types of sleepers.
- Sound quality: We tested headphones for clarity of sound. Crystal clear sound quality isn’t required for sleep headphones, but it should be up to par in order to minimize sudden changes in sound that can cause sleep disruption.
- Price: We included a variety of headphones for sleep that fall in different price categories, from wallet-friendly to cream of the crop, so most sleepers can find a good pair regardless of their budget.
- Special features: We considered added features or perks that made headphones even more functional, such as a free audio library, Google assistant and machine-washability.
What to look for in the best headphones for sleep
Sure, any decent set of headphones can play music or meditations, but it’s the design that sets sleep headphones apart. Regular headphones can be bulky and uncomfortable to lie on, but sleep headphones are made with a minimal, barely there feel that lets you drift off to sleep while wearing them comfortably throughout the night. For the best sleep headphones, keep an eye out for these features:
- Noise cancellation.
- A battery life of eight hours or longer.
- Ergonomic, comfortable ear tips.
- Flat, thin designs such as headband headphones.
How sound affects sleep
Sound has a significant influence on sleep quality, both negative and positive. Dr. Breus said, “there’s data that suggests soothing, relaxing music can bring about these effects on you physically:
- Slower breathing.
- A lower heart rate.
- Lower blood pressure.
- A quieted nervous system.
- Reduced muscle tension.
- Lowered stress and anxiety.
- The release of sleep-friendly hormones, including serotonin and oxytocin, and a reduction in hormones like cortisol.
Breus went on to explain that “just like soothing sounds can mimic a sleep state, certain sounds signal an alarm for your brain ( sirens, loud neighbors, weather etc) so when you hear them, it can cause some level of anxiety. Anxiety is really the opposite of sleep.”
As a result, sleep headphones act as a good solution for people to listen to relaxing sounds while drowning out the noisy, distracting sounds that evoke anxiety and disrupt sleep.