How To Sleep With Headphones On

by Alex.   Last Updated On June 27th, 2022.
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Although our ancestors did not sleep with headphones (after a long day of hunting and gathering) doesn’t mean we get to suffer through traffic sounds without listening to some relaxing music.

Sleeping with Headphones or earbuds is not so straightforward. Anybody who tried this (and I mean intentionally tried this, instead of just passing out) knows it’s difficult to fall asleep and get a good night’s sleep, especially when you have two earcups or small plastic bits poking out from your ears.

Nonetheless, this begs the question: How do I sleep comfortably with headphones?

You can sleep with headphones if you manage to lie on your back. (Or practice doing it). On top of that, you can get better pillows or niche headphones designed for sleeping. 

Unfortunately, there’s more nuance to sleeping with headphones, and this “superhuman feat” might not be for everybody. So, to discuss this further, I’ll be covering several topics such as:

  • How to fall asleep while wearing headphones?
  • How to pick the best sleep headphones?
  • Alternative methods to listen to music while sleeping
  • Benefits of sleeping with headphones
  • Health concerns regarding sleeping with headphones

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get into it.

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How to Fall Asleep While Wearing Headphones

As I mentioned, it is not easy trying to fall asleep while listening to music via headphones. The ear cups are going to press up against the sides of your head and put in too much pressure, causing neck pain, ear pain, and trouble getting enough sleep; even if you did manage to doze off for a couple of hours, you might wake up again from time to time.

So if you don’t get very comfortable and use proper headphones or earbuds, you won’t get enough quality sleep. Luckily, here are some things you can do to ease discomfort and rest up properly while enjoying some soft music.

Get Special Pillows

One of the best things you can do for your comfort (and the comfort of your headphones, of course) is to supplement the “regular pillow setup” in your bed with special pillows that allow you to sleep comfortably with headphones or earbuds without suffering from ear pain.

The first product I highly recommend is the Original Pillow With a Hole. This pillow is designed for people who’s got ear surgery and don’t want anything pressing down into the ears. It’s got a memory foam lining, and you can add in extra cushioning material (or even take them out) until you find the perfect fit.

It is the best pillow for side sleepers and a great addition for wired headphone users because they can thread the audio cable through the hole, having a much better chance of preventing accidental strangulation. (Yeah, the probability of your headphone cables killing you are low, but never zero.)

Also, you can get a donut pillow to try it out, but in my experience, they are harder and designed for people to sit on.

Other than the pillow with a hole, you can always try a travel pillow. Travel pillows are also great alternatives because they are just as comfortable and have a hole in the middle for the earcups to fit in. On top of that, the headband can rest on the top (where the pillow ends the loop) without breaking.

Of course, it will take some time to get used to, but these are definitely worth it and will help reduce discomfort on your ears while also keeping your headphones from breaking.

Use Sleep-Friendly Headphones

If you’re willing to spend a little extra, you can always get a pair of dedicated sleeping headphones. Unfortunately, the thing with these specialized devices is that they don’t offer good sound quality. On top of that, they have horrible ambient noise isolation capabilities.

There are several types of specialized headphones for sleepers. These include:

  • Headband Headphones
  • Low-Profile Sleeping earbuds
  • Speaker pillows
  • Bone conduction headphones

These specialized devices are always more comfortable and safe for sleeping (even with a regular pillow), but they have a niche application, and you won’t get much use out of them. I.e., they are only useful when you want to stay asleep.

In an upcoming section, we’ll talk more about each of these headphones, along with how to sleep even while using traditional over-the-ear headphones and earbuds.

Use a Different Sleep Position

It may take a while to get used to, but sleeping on your back is the best sleeping position for anyone who’s wearing headphones.

If you are a side sleeper, it might be difficult for you to get used to sleeping on your back, and even if you manage to fall asleep, you might revert to your favorite position without even realizing it. Therefore, I recommend trying it out without bulky headphones. (You can practice with small earbuds before moving on to the big cans.)

Also, you can practice sleeping upright (if that’s your thing); remember to use a travel pillow and get enough sleep.

How to Pick the Best Sleep Headphones

In this section, I’ll talk about the different types of headphones designed specifically for sleeping along with dos and don’ts of trying to sleep with headphones.

Headband Headphones

Out of the two types of niche audio-listening devices designed for sleepers, the headband headphones are (in my opinion) the best sleep headphones.

Headband headphones are slim, lightweight, and less intrusive than wireless headphones. (Especially because they don’t include bulky ear cups.) On top of that, unlike earbuds, they don’t go deep into your ear canal and trap heat or ear wax.

That said, the (somewhat) open headphone design with fabric lining doesn’t create the best environment for blocking out ambient noise; hence, you won’t be able to enjoy premium sound quality in a noise-free environment.

A few of the most recommended brands are SleepPhonesCozyPhones, and these budget-friendly headband headphones by Joseche.

Wireless Earbuds Designed for Side Sleepers

Despite their smaller form factor, most earbuds are not easy to sleep with, mostly due to the plastic or metal backs that stick out from the ears. These pieces can be uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful to keep on while sleeping, especially if you are a side sleeper.

If you don’t want to deal with headband headphones (because they don’t do a good job of isolating background noise or have good enough sound quality), you can go for these wireless earbuds designed to stay inside your ears without sticking out.

Unfortunately, these devices have low continuous playback times; hence, they won’t play music until you wake up.

Here are some options for invisible/low-profile earbuds:

TWS Headphones or Earbuds

Now, if you don’t want to spend a couple of extra fifties on headphones and gadgets that you can only use while sleeping, you can try to tough it out using your normal headphones, in-ear headphones, or TWS earbuds.

In this case, the TWS earbuds are a safe option because they aren’t very bulky. Also, the chances of you breaking them are slim. However, you might want to get high-end noise-cancelling earbuds with software options to disable touch control. (Unlike working out, sleeping with AirPods is not that straightforward since there is no setting to disable the force sensor.)

Also, try to disable the low battery notification on your TWS earbuds, these notifications might wake you up after you’ve fallen asleep.

I recommend the Jabra Elite 65T because it is a good pair of noise-cancelling earbuds. On top of that, they have a somewhat low profile and don’t protrude from your ears. Unfortunately, there is no method to disable accidental touches.

As an alternative, I also recommend my personal favorite, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. The touch controls can be disabled on these earbuds, but they protrude a little and can cause slight discomfort while wearing. Also, the battery life on the case is not enough for a power user.

If both these options seem too expensive or unnecessary, you can check out Tozo Earbuds. They are inexpensive and have tons of features packed in.

Full-Size Traditional Headphones

Wearing full-size over-ear or on-ear headphones can be the most difficult. With these padded cups and rigid headbands, you are surely setting yourself up for neck and ear pain along with a higher chance of breaking your headphones.

That said, none of the other devices could provide exceptional sound quality and noise isolation to the likes of high-end noise-canceling headphones; hence, many audiophiles prefer to keep using traditional wired or wireless headphones to listen to music while sleeping.

So if you are also keen on using these devices, I recommend getting an original pillow with a hole or a travel pillow to put some distance between the ear cups and the mattress. (Those two don’t go well together, especially when you are going to be tossing and turning all night long.)

When you are using closed-back headphones, try not to press down into the ears too much when you are sleeping on your side. When you put too much pressure, it can affect the ears and start hurting right away. (Another reason why you need a special pillow.)

Noise-Cancelling Headphones

If you can’t get a good night’s sleep due to noisy neighbors, traffic sounds, or even a snoring partner, then it’s high time you get headphones designed to block background noise. This is where active-noise canceling headphones come in. A good pair will be able to drown out most ambient noises constantly running in the background.

However, you might be concerned about the noise-canceling effect on these headphones. Thankfully, in most instances, you don’t have anything to worry about when you are sleeping. Only a handful of people may experience some discomfort, and it’s because your brain misses familiar sounds.

That said, don’t press them too hard when you are on the side; you might damage the ear cups or hurt your ears due to pressure difference. Also, if your ears get too hot, closed-back headphones might not be for you.

For options on ANC headphones, check out this list of the best noise-canceling headphones for studying.

Alternative Methods to Play Music without Wearing Headphones

Wired headphones can be tricky to work with, but the level of immersion and noise isolation is always better than other alternative methods.

That said, if you still want to get a good night’s sleep with soft music, there are several alternative gadgets you can try out.

Use a Portable Speaker

For starters, you can set up a Bluetooth speaker or stereo system inside your bedroom. Despite nowhere near the sound quality of regular headphones, they can help you listen to music without bulky devices protruding from your ears.

Bluetooth speakers are not that bad; you can control them directly from your phone or even use a dedicated remote control system.

You can get a good set of portable speakers for just under $200 from well-known brands such as Bose and JBL.

Use a White-Noise Machine

White noise is very effective at calming people and helping them get a better night’s sleep. I have used those “Live raining sounds” from YouTube to get some deep sleep quickly whenever I’ve had a long day.

You can try listening to some white noise and seeing if they help you relax. If you like it, you can use your speakers or headphones to listen to white noise or get a dedicated white-noise machine.

Why Should I Wear Headphones to Bed? (Benefits)

Relaxation

Listening to music can help you relax, no doubt about it. Studies have shown that when you play soft music (in the 60-80bpm rate), your body will de-stress and let you wind down for the day. Headphones are the best devices for this because they create a more immersive experience than loudspeakers.

However, don’t listen to the BFG division and expect a good night’s rest.

Other related positive effects include:

  • Stimulating dopamine (the feel-good brain chemicals)
  • Improve your deep sleep time
  • Eliminate background noise

Treat Insomnia and PTSD

Studies have also shown that listening to soft music can help treat insomnia and PTSD. The calming effects of music can help people fall asleep faster and help distract them from traumatic memories.

Health Concerns Regarding Sleeping With Headphones

Headphones and the bedroom have a very volatile relationship. I learned this for the first time when I broke my AKG headphones while dozing off while the headphones were lying on my bed.

However, apart from the damage to your headphones, you can also suffer from ear infections, swimmer’s ear (Otitis externa), ear wax buildup, and ear and neck pain. So be careful when sleeping with headphones. Always listen to your body, and try out the special pillows and/or headphones I’ve mentioned above.

Conclusion

Sleeping with headphones is not ideal, but for some people, the positives far outweigh the negatives. So if you want to improve your sleep quality or practice falling asleep much faster, some music therapy might be what you need.

However, make sure you use the right headphones and the right accessories to make sure you don’t hurt yourself or your devices. It can be a dangerous endeavor, especially when you attempt it without putting in the proper research.