It seems almost impossible to get a good night’s sleep when you’re awake at 3 am listening to loud neighbors, snoring partners, rumbling traffic, and parties all night long.
For years, I suffered from insomnia, falling asleep only to wake up an hour later to the slightest sound. My sleep habits have improved significantly in that regard, but I am still a light sleeper. A passing car or distant conversation would wake me up, and I would remain awakened for the remainder of the night.
Because of this, I’ve tried pretty much every approach out there for keeping sound out of my ears while sleeping. I tried foam, silicone, and other earplugs, earbuds of all sizes and shapes, white noise machines, cotton wool, and even several pillows pulled forlornly over my head in one particularly noisy, miserable hotel.
While none have been perfect, I’ve found some brands and models of earbuds to be better than others. The term “earbuds” here refers to anything that is loud or silent in your ear canals while you are desperately trying to sleep, including traditional in-ear buds, flat over-ear versions, and anything similar.
That definition does not include headphones, however. As I lie on my front with one ear on the pillow while sleeping, none of the brands or models I’ve tried have been small or comfortable enough for anything more than a quick nap for me.
In spite of this, headphones offer the best noise cancellation money can buy, and are still useful in certain circumstances. As an example, if you lie on your back and don’t move all night, or want something to help you sleep while sitting upright on a plane, headphones can still work for you.
It will eliminate all but the loudest neighbors or snorers, and the pads are comfortable enough to not pinch or squash your ears even when worn for hours.
It is best to sleep with earbuds or thin earphones if you move around while you sleep. These are the best earphones of 2022.
What to Look For
It can sometimes be difficult to know what to expect from sleep earbuds due to their specialized nature. Manufacturers have tried a variety of different approaches to solving the issue, and some have worked better than others.
The most important factors to consider when choosing sleep earbuds are comfort, connectivity, battery life, and noise reduction. Below I have summarized the most important factors.
A set of sleep earbuds is most often purchased by people who struggle to sleep. Anything that can help you block out the world and drift into a blissful slumber is welcome, whether it is due to a snoring partner, traffic noise, or anything else.
A noise-canceling earbud is the best option if you want to reduce outside sound as much as possible. While this type of bud has a tradeoff between size, features, and battery life, in my experience, they provide better sleep in loud environments.
Next, let’s talk about noise isolation buds. They work like traditional earplugs, but create a physical barrier between the ear canal and the outside world. While they don’t work as well as noise cancelling headphones, they tend to be cheaper and (sometimes) more comfortable than those with actual noise cancelling.
It also includes sleep headbands with speakers inside, flat headphones, and similar items that sit on your ears rather than in them. While these are the cheapest option, they block out the least amount of sound and tend to move around quite a bit, so they aren’t ideal for loud environments.
It is more important to choose comfortable sleep earbuds than any other type of audio gear, because there are several reasons for this.
Then there’s the fact that they are likely to be in your ears for eight hours or more every night, so even a small amount of discomfort can build up over time. Waking up in pain in the middle of the night isn’t exactly conducive to a great night’s sleep.
A second factor to consider is whether you sleep on your back or side (i.e. with your ear pressed into the pillow). A hard plastic ear canal makes it impossible or difficult to find and maintain a comfortable sleeping position when it presses firmly into your ear canal.
A softer pillow can help (I discuss this further at the end of this article), but some earbud models will still not be comfortable to lie on no matter how soft your pillow is.
For some people, the only solution is to avoid the issue entirely by using a headband-style model made from a soft, fleecy material with thin, flat speakers inside. They are much more comfortable to wear, but they tend to block out much less sound, so they really work only in relatively quiet environments.
Any earbud, but especially those you wear while sleeping, should have a snug fit, or you’ll end up waking up with them down at the bottom.
There are also gaps in the earphone that make a huge difference in how effective it is to cancel or isolate noise: even the best noise cancelling headphones don’t work well with gaps in the earphone. If your earbuds aren’t firmly wedged in place, they are also easy to move out of position when you move.
The best sleep earbuds will have a good range of tips and/or wings to ensure a tight fit, or they will have a headband that fits comfortably around your head and ears without being too tight.
If you’re looking to connect your sleep earbuds to your phone or other devices, there are three options: Bluetooth, physical cables, and nothing at all. Each of these options has its pros and cons, depending on your situation and what you like to listen to (if anything).
Your gear already has Bluetooth built-in. Bluetooth allows wireless connections and has widespread compatibility with other devices, but it has a downside: its battery life is short. Because most sleep earbuds have such small batteries, they can run out before the night is over.
There are also hybrid earbuds that use Bluetooth to download ambient sounds from your phone or other devices to the internal storage. This saves battery life, but isn’t as flexible as a full Bluetooth connection.
A wired option is typically less expensive, and does not require batteries. On the downside, you’re likely to end up with the cord wrapped around your neck in the morning, and over time, all of that pulling on the cable tends to make the connections loose.
It is also important to note that some models are only designed to cancel ambient noise, and will not be able to connect to any other devices. This typically means better battery life, but you will not be able to listen to music, podcasts, sleep sounds, or anything else.
You won’t hear great sound from sleep-focused buds unless you opt for general-purpose earbuds with their limitations for sleeping (like size and battery life). Because of their petite size, they have very small drivers, so you won’t get much rich soundscapes or thumping bass.
It’s unlikely to be a problem for most people. After all, you’re trying to fall asleep, not listen closely to your favorite album. As long as it distracts and annoys you, it’s probably fine.
The audio quality doesn’t matter as long as you’re not going to listen to anything while you sleep. If you don’t want to hear anything while you sleep, you can focus on other features (like noise cancelation) instead.
It’s worth mentioning that wireless earbuds aren’t usually extremely battery efficient. Most popular models won’t last all night long and announce low battery levels in loud tones. That’s not helpful.
It’s for this reason that sleep-specific models often take innovative approaches to extend battery life to at least seven hours or more.
You can find earbuds with different levels of connectivity, and some that let you load a few tracks rather than stream music.
It’s essentially a matter of wired earbuds if none of that appeals to you. In the meantime, you’ll never wake up in the middle of the night because your battery runs out. On the downside, the cable may choke you as you sleep, which might wake you up struggling to breathe.
7 Best Ear Buds for Sleep Reviews
1. Bose Sleepbuds II
With the Sleepbuds II, Bose alleviated the complaints about random shutdowns and poor battery life, so we can focus on the more important question: are the Sleepbuds actually any good at helping you sleep?
It’s generally true, in general, that white noise helps people fall asleep. While we prefer the QuietOn 3, some people prefer the noise-cancelling silence. The sound of ocean waves, ambient noise, or general static can sometimes be better than having your ears closed.
Sleepbuds II are well worth checking out if that describes you. These are high-quality earbuds, small and comfortable, with an almost luxurious feel inside the ear canal. Anti-friction coatings help reduce noise when the buds brush against your pillow, hair, or other object.
Sleepbuds II may not be as comfortable to lie on if you sleep with one ear on your pillow, as with anything that lives inside your ear canal. As with QuietOn’s above, this isn’t an issue for everyone, and if you sleep on your back, it won’t be a problem.
As long as you get the right fit (three different sizes of tip are included in the box to help with that: we’d like to see more of them), there’s a fair amount of noise isolation. The QuietOn’s active noise cancellation isn’t as good as this, but it still does a good job of reducing quiet noises on its own.
At least in theory, the Sleepbuds offer 50+ sounds designed to help you sleep better. The accompanying app lets you load tracks over Bluetooth and customize settings like alarms, but that’s the only time your phone will be connected to the earbuds.
The 10-hour battery life is more than enough to get you through the night, and while it isn’t nearly as long as the QuietOn 3’s 28 hours, it’s much better than general-purpose wireless buds like the Airpods Pro.
Battery life is somewhat affected by the volume of your chosen sounds, which brings up another point: you’ll probably need to experiment with the volume level to find that sweet spot between “loud enough to drown out external noise” and “so loud it keeps you up at night”.
Depending on the exact soundscape you’re playing, that sweet spot varies, but chances are you’ll stick with one or two favorites after a while, so it’s not a big deal. You may need to spend a few nights trying to find the perfect fit, volume, and soundtrack(s).
Overall, we like the second version of the Sleepbuds much more than the first, and it’s easier to recommend it without weird shutdowns and other glitches. Our recommendation in most situations would still be the QuietOn 3, but if you prefer to sleep with sounds in your ears rather than silence, this is the premium version.
- Small and light
- Premium materials
- Enough battery life to get through the night
- Good range of sounds
- Can’t play your own tracks
- Only three earbud tips in the box
- No noise cancellation
- Not always comfortable to lie on
2. Soundcore Sleep A10
It’s been a few years since Anker’s Soundcore brand released a sleep-specific earbud, but the Sleep A10 is a very impressive first effort.
This earbud is noise-isolating, which means it blocks out sound in the same way as an earplug does, but it doesn’t have active noise cancellation technology. The passive isolation works pretty well, at least if you use the right size tips for your ears, but it’s not as effective as QuietOn’s approach for blocking out loud noises.
However, the A10’s do excel at comfort. They’re some of the smallest earbuds I’ve found, fitting easily inside my average-sized ears. They’re the only mattresses where I’ve been able to sleep with my ear pressed into the pillow all night: this makes them the most comfortable for side sleepers like me.
The earbuds come with four silicone tips and three wings to keep them in place, and I’ve never woken up to find them missing.
It’s easy to stream music, audiobooks, or whatever else you like to sleep with the A10’s, since they’re Bluetooth earbuds. You can also adjust ambient noise via the Soundcore app, but with so few options currently, I would go with the Bose Sleepbuds II (above) if that were my main use.
A10s are impressive for listening to music and podcasts while sleeping. Over the course of several weeks, I slept soundly in a variety of environments, from a quiet suburban street with birds in the morning to a loud inner city neighborhood at night.
The battery life is pretty good with ambient sound, lasting about eight hours. It’s a bit less (6-7 hours) with podcasts, but I generally only listen to one or two of them and am asleep before they are over.
Since the earbuds are so small, you won’t be getting booming bass or crisp treble: podcasts sound fine, but music sounds pretty thin. It doesn’t bother me when I’m trying to sleep, but most people probably won’t use the A10’s as their daily earbuds.
The QuietOn 3’s noise cancelation makes it my top pick when sleeping in loud environments. However, if I wanted to drift off listening to my favorite podcasts or music while not having to block out as much sound, I would choose the Sleep A10’s.
- Comfortable even for side sleepers
- Decent battery life
- Limited ambient sound options
- Thin sound
You’ve got two basic options if you want to listen to music, white noise, or something else without disturbing others: something with wires, or something without. Both are cheaper and won’t run out of battery, but wireless versions won’t strangle you in the night.
One of the pioneers of headbands that help you sleep, SleepPhones, from Acoustic Sheep, offers both options. No matter which version you get, the basic approach remains the same. You can adjust the flat speakers to align with your ears as required by moving them around inside a fitted headband.
It is usually more comfortable to sleep on your side or on your front with headbands like these, and you can also pull them down over your eyes to block out the light in bright rooms. Two fabrics are available for SleepPhones (fleece for comfort, moisture-wicking for hot climates,) three sizes, and a variety of colors.
The Bluetooth module also sits inside the headband, with a battery life of up to 12 hours. You can charge it by removing it from the band and connecting it to a USB charger. It also comes with a wireless charger, so you can just place it on top. However, it’s more expensive and frequently out of stock.
My girlfriend received the wired version of the SleepPhones after I reviewed them a few years ago. If you move around in bed a lot, wireless is the way to go. She got a lot of use out of them until the cable broke after a few years of tossing and turning.
The small flat speakers have been designed for comfort, not to include crisp midrange or booming bass. After all, the goal is to help you sleep, not to appreciate Handel’s Messiah’s subtleties.
You will also find there isn’t a great deal of noise isolation, which means you have to turn up the volume a great deal to drown out very loud environments, but in quieter rooms you won’t have that problem.
Designed to be comfortable and easy to use, SleepPhone Bluetooth headband is probably the most practical sleep “earbud” option available.
- Decent battery life
- Very comfortable
- Range of sizes, fabrics, and colors
- Doubles as an eye mask
- Wired charging is a bit fussy
- No noise cancellation or sound isolation
- Low sound quality
SleepPhone’s Bluetooth version sounds great, but you do not have the budget? The best example I’ve seen thus far is CozyPhones. Acoustic Sheep makes a wired model as mentioned, but many other companies do as well, and charge significantly less.
The braided cord of the CozyPhones is 52 inches, which is slightly longer than the SleepPhones cord. However, everything else is pretty similar.
There are two small speakers that slip into the headband. They can be moved around as needed, and taken out before washing. A small travel bag is included to keep your CozyPhones safe.
It should be noted that the CozyPhones only come in a single “one size fits most” version, which might be something to keep in mind. My girlfriend and I have tried out a few pairs over the years, and while they fitted us both well, they were looser on her head than on mine.
The company also makes smaller, child-friendly sizes with appropriate designs and volume limits. Licensed versions with Paw Patrol and Batman characters are also available.
If you move around a lot in the night, the usual issues that come with sleeping with wired earbuds apply here as well: the cord can end up wrapped around you by morning, causing the cable to loosen or break. If this is an issue, you should go wireless.
- Doubles as an eye mask
- Comes in a range of colors and designs
- Only one size
- Wire can tangle in the night, and risks breakage over time
- No noise cancellation or sound isolation
- Low sound quality
5. Panasonic RP-HS46
It’s hard to go past the Panasonic RP-HS46 if you’re on a tight budget and just want to listen to music while you fall asleep. While they don’t have great sound, extra features, or a catchy name, they do have flat speakers and a low price.
Despite being pressed between your ear and the pillow, the speakers are more comfortable than most earbuds or headphones (especially). The slim design of the speakers makes them at least somewhat suitable for side sleepers. To keep them in place, they clip onto each ear, and the cable is four feet long.
You can’t expect much in the way of sound isolation from these earphones, so you’ll need to ensure the volume is kept low if you sleep with a partner.
It wouldn’t be my first choice if you were looking to block out a lot of outside noise while sleeping, but if you take a bit of white noise or listen to a boring podcast to help you relax, these are a good option.
- Sleeping with flat speakers is comfortable, at least when it comes to headphones
- Wire can tangle and break over time
- No noise cancellation or isolation
6. Apple Airpods Pro
There’s a compromise to be made when it comes to general-purpose wireless earbuds for sleeping. It is possible to have a small size, long battery life, strong noise cancellation, or decent comfort, but you can’t have them all at the moment. If sleep is your major concern, the QuietOn 3 (above) is still a better option.
Apple’s Airpods Pro, however, are the best (or least worst) noise-canceling earbuds for sleeping if you want to listen to music and podcasts as well. They’re smaller and more comfortable to lie on than most of the competition, and they’re very noise-cancelling.
They’re also an impressive set of wireless earbuds in their own right, no doubt. In this article, I won’t go into great detail about their features, but suffice it to say that they’ve been near the top of many best-of lists ever since they were released.
The biggest downside to sleeping with these devices is their battery life: they can’t last all night and might wake you up when they’re low on power.
The ability to comfortably lie on your earbuds for long periods of time is less of a concern when you sleep on your back and don’t move much. Sony’s WF-1000XM4 is a better option if you sleep on your back. Their larger size corresponds to a larger battery, so you’ll get 8 hours before they run out.
- Good noise cancellation
- Quality sound
- Relatively small and comfortable
- Great general-purpose wireless earbuds
- Battery life not long enough to get through the night
7. QuietOn 3.1
A few technology companies, including QuietOn, are completely dedicated to helping sleep-deprived people. The noise-canceling earphones don’t play music or podcasts, and they don’t connect to your other devices at all. They just block out noise so you sleep better, and they do it surprisingly well.
Small and lightweight, these are deceptively simple devices. In addition to their noise-canceling technology, these headphones are also very effective at suppressing low-frequency sounds like snoring and traffic roaring. Getting the fit right is important, though, and there are four earbud tips to help you do just that.
As I mentioned in my QuietOn 3 review, these headphones were more comfortable than most earbuds I’ve used. Even so, if I’m sleeping on my side or back, positioning my “lower” ear in such a way as to keep it comfortable might be difficult.
It’s less of a problem with in-ear buds, however, and if you sleep on your back, that concern goes away. I found the new model (QuietOn 3.1) to be noticeably more comfortable than the old model when I tried it out, with slightly smaller foam tips.
I was surprised, however, at how effective the QuietOn 3’s are with just one earbud. It’s easy for me to get back to sleep at night if there’s loud traffic outside or noisy conversations on the street outside. I’ll put one of the earbuds in, put my other ear on the pillow, and put the other ear in.
My trip to Southeast Asia earlier this year was not exactly a recipe for restful sleep, with loud roosters and poorly maintained motorbikes. It was usually easier for me to sleep through the night with the QuietOn buds in. If I did not, I was up at 5.30 a.m. with the chickens.
The battery life is genuinely impressive, lasting over 28 hours between charges (roughly three nights of sleep). I found that figure to be accurate in my tests, and it is significantly better than most of the alternatives.
Although the QuietOn 3 earbuds might not be the ideal solution for everyone, their small size, long battery life, and noise reduction make them a good choice for many people. They’re the best way I’ve found to drown out the world while sleeping, and are our top pick as a result. Use the code TMA10 to save 10%.
- Small and light
- Good noise-cancelling performance
- Very impressive battery life
- Comfortable and sealable earbud tips
- It is not always comfortable to lie on, depending on the pillow and the position in which you sleep
Tip for Side Sleepers: Use a Pillow With a Hole!
It can be problematic to have anything sitting in or on your ears for those of us who sleep with one ear on the pillow, as I have mentioned a couple of times already. When pressed firmly into your ear canal, even the smallest sleeping earbuds can be uncomfortable.
You can try switching to a softer pillow, but that won’t work if you prefer a harder one. There is a middle ground, though: a pillow with a hole. It may sound like a manufacturing defect, but in this case, it isn’t.
Its circular hole is originally designed to help people recover from ear surgery or deal with painful conditions, but it is also beneficial to people who endure sleeping on an earbud for several hours at a time.
With its hypoallergenic material and removable stuffing that allows you to adjust the height and firmness, the P.W.A.H. (as it is known) is surprisingly comfortable and effective.
The fabric-lined travel pillow like this one offers similar benefits in a smaller, cheaper package, but it isn’t as comfortable as a normal pillow, so test it out before using it.