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How to Safely Sleep with Earbuds and Headphones in Comfort

Last updated: 10 months ago
9 min read

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Is something keeping you awake at night? Does playing music or white noise help you fall asleep?

Here are the tips on how to sleep with earbuds or headphones in comfort. But first, let’s consider the safety concerns. See them below.

Sleeping with headphones
CONTENTS (show more)

    People like falling asleep with headphones or earbuds for various reasons, but the main goal is to relax.

    • Reducing stress. Specific genres of music have a relaxing effect. It lets you focus on the music rather than other problems. Furthermore, your body starts producing dopamine, the happiness hormone, so you start feeling better.
    • Blocking outside distractions. Some people take longer to fall asleep. Or they wake up due to the slightest noise. Some use earplugs or play a relaxing tune to prevent distractions from the outside world.
    • Masking tinnitus. Many people who suffer from severe tinnitus (phantom ringing due to inner ear damage) listen to music to mask the distracting ringing.

    The Risk of Sleeping with Earbuds and Headphones

    Wearing earbuds or headphones helps with quality sleep. We’ve established that, but we also have to discuss the potential risks.

    Is it bad to sleep with earbuds in?

    It can be bad to sleep with earbuds in if you ignore the potential dangers, such as hearing damage and ear infections. But is generally fine.

    Sleeping with IEMs
    Wearing in-ear headphones can make you sleep comfortably; just don’t forget about loudness and hygiene.
    • Hearing damage. Continuous exposure to sounds louder than 85dB will cause irreparable damage to your inner ear. Keeping the loudness at a lower volume is safe.
    • Ear infection. Earbuds with ear tips prevent your ears from pushing ear wax out. So it starts building up. The collected wax, dirt, and warm, moist environment are perfect for bacterial growth, which causes infections and ear pain.

    Is it bad to sleep with AirPods in?

    Like regular earbuds, AirPods can be bad to sleep with if you use them recklessly and forget your ear hygiene.

    • Maintain safe loudness. Keep the loudness lower. Based on our measurements, at 50% volume, AirPods play at around 78dB, which is safe for an 8-hour sleep. If possible, enable “Loudness normalizer” before bedtime, so all songs play equally loud.
    • Keep your ears clean. Too much ear wax in your ears blocks your ear canal or the nozzle of your AirPods and potentially causes ear infections.

    Is it bad to sleep with headphones on?

    It can be bad to sleep with headphones if you play them loudly or if you’re a restless sleeper.

    • Keep the volume down. As said before, extended exposure to loud sounds leads to hearing damage. Prevent it by keeping the loudness under 85dB, preferably lower.
    • Discomfort. Headphones are big and made of hard materials, so unless you sleep on your back, they will cause discomfort. You can’t sleep on the side. It’s common to experience neck pain the following day.
    Sleeping with over-ear headphones
    Over-ear headphones touch the pillow in almost every position, which makes them uncomfortable to sleep with.

    How to Safely Sleep with Earbuds or Headphones

    Let’s dive into details on how to safely sleep with earbuds and headphones by avoiding potential dangers you might not be aware of.

    Use active noise-cancelling earbuds and headphones

    If the surrounding noise troubles your sleep, enable active noise cancellation (ANC) to remove distractions.

    1MORE SonoFlow anc button
    ANC helps you fall asleep by reducing distracting noises around you.

    Regular earplugs mostly block higher frequencies leaving lower frequencies intact. Contrary, ANC technology works best at removing low-frequency noise.

    ANC successfully reduces the sound of:

    • Air conditioning
    • Traffic sounds
    • Home appliances
    • Engine noise (if you’re traveling)
    • People’s speech (to some degree)

    Avoid using ANC in case of an emergency

    However, use noise-cancelling earbuds or headphones only when you don’t sleep alone.

    Since ANC efficiently blocks low-end or constant sounds, you might not hear sirens, alarms, or heavy knocking on the door in case of an emergency.

    Keep the volume at a safe level

    Extended exposure to loud sounds stresses your inner ear, causing hairs inside the cochlea to break, permanently preventing you from hearing specific frequencies. The more you push the loudness, the more hair you break.

    Lower the volume
    Keep the volume down to prevent unnecessary hearing damage.

    To protect your hearing during sleep:

    • Keep the volume as low as possible (or at least around 50%, which can still be loud). As long as the loudness is under 80dB, it’s safe to listen for over 24 hours, according to CDC. That way, you’ll avoid damaging your hearing.
    • EnableLoudness Normalizer” or a similar feature before going to sleep. It equalizes the volume of your music. It worsens sound quality but ensures a loud music doesn’t suddenly wake you up.
    • Enable theShut Downtimer. Some headphones like Jabra Elite 7 Pro and Edifier WH950NB offer a shutdown feature in their apps where you set a timer to turn off the headphones. Don’t worry, you can also download the Sleep Timer app for Android or iOS that turns off your music and even Bluetooth after a certain amount of time. That’s helpful if you want to protect your hearing (and save battery) by not letting your headphones play all night.

    Try avoiding earbuds or headphones with touch-sensitive controls. Brushing against a warm pillow can register as a gesture, which can accidentally turn up the volume.

    • A possible solution is to disable the volume control from your touch controls.

    Clean your earbuds and headphones regularly

    Even after an hour of listening, you cover your earbuds and headphones with a little bit of ear wax and sweat. This attracts dirt and foul odor. Imagine what might happen if you constantly wear headphones for 8 hours overnight.

    Cleaning headphones
    Maintain hygiene of your sleep headphones to avoid bad odors and skin infections.

    Apart from the foul odor, dirt that collects on your earbuds will go back into your ears, which can lead to an ear infection.

    Likewise, with headphones, absorbed sweat will start to smell and, if not dried off, attract mold.

    To prevent that from happening:

    • Brush your earbuds or headphones with a cloth every morning to remove any body liquids. Do that right after the use, before the liquids dry and stick to your headphones.
    • Every week, do a deeper clean by disinfecting the earbuds or headphones.

    You can learn how to clean your earbuds and how to clean your headphones in our separate in-depth articles.

    Use the right type of earbuds and headphones

    Suitable headphones for sleeping have a low profile. They sit flush with your ears or are at least small.

    The best types of headphones for sleeping are:

    • In-ear headphones. They’re the most sleep-friendly headphones and the smallest options, but you must find the ones that don’t protrude from your ears. If they have a truly low profile, you might sleep on your sides without discomfort. See how to wear earbuds to ensure maximum comfort.
    Sleeping with AirPods
    • Headband headphones. They’re the slimmest solution but have a few drawbacks, like worse sound quality and extra heat production.
    AcousticSheep SleepPhones Classic sleeping headphones
    • On-ear headphones. Due to smaller earcups, they are less likely to bump into a pillow. However, you must sleep on your back for the entire night.
    Sleeping with on-ear headphones

    See related:

    Now, the worst types of headphones for sleeping are:

    • Over-ear headphones. Due to their big size, they touch the pillow even when you lay on your back.
    • Bone conduction headphones. Most have a neckband-style arch at the back of your head, making them entirely unsuitable for sleeping.
    • Wireless earbuds with a headband. These are old-style Bluetooth earbuds and, due to the headband, a bad choice for sleeping.
    TrueFree F1 on a person's head
    Protruding neckband arch at the back of your head is unsuitable for sleeping.
    • A possible solution for side-sleepers who want to keep their big headphones is to use special pillows with a hole in the middle (like the one on massage tables).

    Don’t sleep with earbuds and headphones every night

    Let your ears rest.

    If you use earbuds for sleeping, you constantly push the earwax back into your ear canal. Also, plugging ear tips in and out can create scratches, which can lead to infection.

    On the other hand, bigger headphones squeeze your ears or press against your head. That restricts blood flow, causing pain and headaches.

    Avoid wired headphones

    If you are a restless sleeper who turns around often, you might tangle the cable around your neck and strangle yourself.

    Strangled by the cable
    If you’re a restless sleeper, you might, while unlikely, create a suffocating knot.

    It is a risk to consider. And you might suffocate before you even realize you have to untangle the cable.

    • Use wireless earbuds and wireless headphones to eliminate the risk.

    How to sleep with headphones without breaking them

    If you prefer headphones over earbuds for sleeping, you risk damaging them. Especially if you tend to turn around during sleep.

    To avoid pressing too hard on your headphones, consider different types of pillows.

    • Pillow with a hole. You can buy pillows with a hole in the middle to prevent squeezing your ears. Purchasing the largest size might leave you enough room to cram in an entire earcup.
    • Travel pillows. You can use it to either lift your head so that headphones don’t touch the pillow. Or you can shape it into a croissant and sleep on it by placing headphones between the gap.

    The Benefits of Sleeping with Headphones

    If you successfully avoid all the risks mentioned above, sleeping with earbuds and headphones can help people who have trouble falling asleep.

    And you don’t have to listen to only music. Some people prefer listening to constant sleep sounds, like ocean waves or white noise. Some even enjoy listening to audiobooks, podcasts, and ASMR videos.

    Improving your mood

    Playing certain songs can make your body start releasing dopamine and serotonin, making you feel pleasant and happier.

    Easing tinnitus

    Tinnitus is an annoying constant ringing in your ears that fluctuates in intensity. It can affect the quality of life and worsens when you expose yourself to the same frequency as the ringing you hear.

    The condition commonly results from inner ear damage, usually due to prolonged exposure to loud noise. 

    Essentially, the cochlea sends a “fake” or phantom signal to your brain, interpreted as a constant ringing.

    When exposed to other surrounding sounds, tinnitus isn’t as noticeable. But when you try to sleep in a quiet room, the ringing is highly distracting.

    That’s why people with tinnitus wear headphones during sleep to mask the distracting ringing, helping them fall asleep.

    Getting a good night’s sleep

    Some people take longer to fall asleep and are bothered by the noise around them. If you’re one of them, use headphones to block the sounds and avoid distractions.

    Woman sleeping in bed
    Having a quality sleep is healthy, and headphones can help you achieve it.

    Improving your health

    It is recommended for an adult to sleep for at least 7 hours a day. People continuously deprived of sleep are at risk of weakening their immune system, getting diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, etc.

    Can ANC Headphones Block Snoring

    Yes, active noise-cancelling headphones can block snoring. But only to some degree.

    It depends on how the person next to you snores. ANC technology works best with lower frequencies. If the snoring is deeper, it may effectively block it.

    On the other hand, high-pitch snoring can be slightly more challenging. For that, you will need high-end:

    Nevertheless, even regular earplugs are usually good enough to lower the snoring to bearable levels. So, ANC reduces even more snoring.

    Alternatives to Sleeping with Headphones

    If you don’t like the idea of earbuds or headphones with music on your head throughout the night, here are some possible alternatives that help you mask distracting sounds.

    Earplugs

    The best last-minute solution is simple earplugs. They usually sell them in pharmacies and are made of memory foam.

    AfterShokz Aeropex earplugs
    Use earplugs if you want to block outside noise.

    Earplugs significantly reduce high-frequency sounds but don’t remove bass notes that well. However, that’s good enough for most people to fall asleep faster without getting distracted.

    You can buy more specific earplugs that can pass through certain frequency regions, but those are better suited for concerts or work where you want to dampen noise but still hear people’s speech.

    Note that earplugs go deep into your ear canal, pushing earwax back into your ears. So remember to keep your ears clean before use.

    White noise machines

    If white noise is your favorite jam to fall asleep listening to, you can buy a dedicated white noise machine.

    These devices are inexpensive and offer extra features. Alongside white noise, they usually come with other sounds, like rain, thunder, ocean waves, etc.

    And they include shutdown timers, so they don’t play throughout the entire night.

    Speakers

    If you don’t want to buy a dedicated noise generator, you can opt for speakers you already own.

    You have the liberty of choosing your own white noise recording (or any other recording), but you must make sure it plays in a loop.

    • Also, be aware that playing it through YouTube might not be the best idea due to unexpected commercials during videos.
    • And you have to sleep alone, so you don’t bother others.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    Is it safe to sleep with earbuds in?

    It is perfectly safe to sleep with earbuds in your ears if you maintain good ear hygiene (to prevent ear infections due to ear wax accumulation) and avoid listening to music at higher volumes (possible hearing damage).

    Is it OK to sleep with Bluetooth earbuds?

    It is better to sleep with Bluetooth earbuds since they lack cables that could strangle you. Also, Bluetooth radiation is way too weak to harm you. Just make sure to keep the loudness to a minimum and regularly clean your ears and earbuds.

    Is it OK to wear AirPods while sleeping?

    It is OK to wear AirPods while sleeping if you don’t blast the music (and risk hearing damage) and if you regularly clean your ears and AirPods (to prevent infections in the ear canal area).

    Does sleeping with AirPods damage your ears?

    Sleeping with AirPods can damage your ears if you leave them playing at a higher volume or use them dirty, leading to ear infections. Severe infections can also contribute to hearing loss.

    What is the best way to sleep with earbuds?

    The best way to sleep with earbuds is to find ones with a low profile, so you can freely turn your head around without the earbuds hitting the pillow. And, get true wireless ones, as the cable poses a strangling risk.

    How long is it safe to wear earbuds?

    It is safe to wear earbuds as long as you want under 2 conditions: If you keep the volume down, under 80dB to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. And both the buds and your ears are clean. The key is to prevent earwax from building up in your ear canals.

    Conclusion: Should You Wear Headphones While Sleeping?

    If it helps you, why not? If blocking noise or playing sounds benefits your sleep, you should definitely continue wearing headphones while sleeping.

    But remember to practice good listening habits by keeping the loudness down and cleaning your ears and earbuds/headphones regularly.

    Note that not all headphones are suitable for sleeping.

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