Good naps are hard to come by, so if you find something that lulls you to sleep in just the right way, you should hang on to it. But what if your favorite method of falling asleep clashes with your sleeping arrangements? What if you share your room or your bed with a light sleeper, but you need some kind of noise to doze off? Well, in that case, you’d best get used to sleeping with headphones on — and I’m about to show you how.
Most people who have never tried to fall asleep with headphones on have two major concerns. Namely, they worry about perishing in their sleep due to electrocution or choking. So let’s dispel some of the myths that keep so many folks from catching z’s in style.
Is It Safe to Sleep With Headphones?
Before I tell you how to wear headphones in bed without developing a crick in your neck, let’s see the most worrying potential dangers of sleeping with headphones on:
If you wear wired headphones to bed, you might wake up in a tangle of cords. Even worse, according to some people, you might not wake up at all. But frankly, the chances of getting strangled in your sleep are pretty slim, especially if the cord in question is thin.
On the other hand, if the cord is on the thicker side and you tend to toss and turn while you sleep, it might happen. Fortunately, getting around this potential obstacle is fairly easy — just get a wireless headset.
The second most common fear people have about sleeping with headphones on is that they might get zapped by an errant electric current. Fortunately, the chances of that happening are also close to zero.
Sure, if your headphones are connected to a device that is, in turn, plugged into an electrical socket, there is a possibility of a surge getting to your headphones. But even then, they’d have to be structurally compromised enough for you to get in direct contact with the wiring. You can probably see how unlikely that scenario is for yourself.
Ultimately, electrocution and choking aren’t concerns you’ll need to worry about if you go wireless. However, some people still worry about Bluetooth technology giving them cancer. We might as well debunk that myth — Bluetooth devices emit harmless levels of radiation. So that’s certainly not a concern you need to add to your list.
Having seen two unlikely dangerous situations you might get into if you wear headphones in bed, let’s discuss some more pressing concerns. Instead of choking or electrocution, you should be worried about damaging your hearing. After all, when we’re trying to block out external sounds with audio devices, we tend to be a bit heavy-handed with the volume keys.
But the potential danger is two-fold. The issue of hearing loss due to loud sounds can be fixed by simply dialing the volume down. However, depending on the kind of headphones you’re using, you may also suffer from:
- Earwax accumulation due to the lack of ventilation. All kinds of headphones could induce this problem, and it could be severe enough to cause other issues as well. More to the point, there would be waxy residue on your headphones, which would be medically irrelevant but visually gross.
- Otitis externa, which is inflammation of the external ear canal. The condition is common in swimmers and people who prefer earbuds. Earplugs and earbuds irritate the inside of the ear, which causes painful swelling.
- Necrosis or tissue degradation due to a bad fit of the earbuds. Uncomfortable in-ear headphones could be pressing against the inside of your ears in such a way that the extra pressure may be deadening the skin. However, you’d have to put up with a lot of pain before it got to this stage.
If you notice earwax buildup and tenderness and let the symptoms go untreated, you may end up with permanent damage. Any discomfort you experience will go away if you transition to on- or over-head headphones. Alternatively, you could implement the tips I’ll share below. As for wax accumulation, that’s an issue you’ll have to take up with an otolaryngologist.
Lack of Environmental Awareness
Lastly, before sleeping with headphones on, you ought to consider the fact that they decrease your awareness of the world around you.
Even if you’re not a particularly light sleeper, some sounds would still be able to break through to you if you weren’t wearing headphones. Namely, you have to be able to hear your morning alarm, fire alarms, and tornado sirens at all times. Additionally, not wearing headphones would allow you to hear your kids during the night or any other sounds that might arouse suspicion.
Unfortunately, that goes out the window if your ears are blocked. Still, if the person sleeping next to you is a light sleeper, they’ll catch any noise you don’t. So this could be a non-issue — just let them worry about would-be burglars!
Can Your Headphones Break if You Sleep on Them?
Believe it or not, most people aren’t particularly worried about the potential health risks of sleeping with headphones on. However, they’d rather avoid having to buy a new pair of headphones if the ones they use break during the night. But how seriously should you take this concern?
Once again, some kinds of headphones are more likely to break while you sleep than others. Generally, those issues only come up if you’re using wired headphones. All that tossing and turning won’t just make you dream of being garrotted — it may also cause the cord to snap. Since that would leave the wires exposed, you probably don’t want to risk it.
As you might have noticed, many of the problems I’ve highlighted so far could be solved by simply choosing wireless headphones. However, even if you went wireless, you might regret sleeping with headphones on. Depending on their design, the experience may be less than comfortable and have incredibly painful consequences.
Tips for Sleeping With Headphones On
So far, I’ve focused on everything that could go wrong if you went to sleep with headphones on. But you may be interested to know that it doesn’t have to be like that! There are small adjustments you can make to avoid any discomfort and risk.
1. Go Wireless
Let’s get the most obvious tip out of the way first. If possible, go for wireless headphones. Most of them should be able to get you at least five hours of playtime, and you’d avoid the choking hazard. Additionally, wireless headphones will be less likely to break while you sleep.
Of course, that’s by no means a guarantee. Some headphones, wireless or not, are shoddily built — there’s no way around that. Furthermore, even if yours are a quality pair, they may not have been made with sleeping in mind. So before you blindly choose a random pair of wireless headphones, make sure that you’ll find them comfortable to use while horizontal.
2. Find the Most Comfortable Headphones for You
There are three kinds of headphones you’ll get to choose from. Earbuds provide excellent passive noise insulation, but they may be uncomfortable to use while sleeping. Over-ear models are usually way too chunky to sleep comfortably on, but they provide excellent audio reproduction. Then, there’s the question of on-ear headphones.
No one in their right mind would recommend on-ear headphones if you need to be able to block out noise. Unlike over- and in-ear models, which completely close off the ear, on-ear headphones provide next to no passive insulation. So even if they have active noise cancelation, the feature won’t work because the design of the product will still let noise seep in. That certainly won’t do if you’re trying to block out traffic or persistent snoring.
Still, on-ear headphones may be the most comfortable kinds of headphones to sleep on. So in this case, lower quality insulation and audio might be a compromise you’d be willing to live with. Besides, if you manage to fall asleep more easily with headphones, you won’t have to put up with the audio quality for long.
3. Use Headphones for Sleeping
If you have a choice, always go for the headphones that are designed for sleeping on. Uncomfortable earbuds or chunky over-ear headphones may cut it while you’re in the upright position. But when you start struggling to make yourself comfortable in bed, you’ll see the value of flat headphones.
Most of the sleep and travel models are simple disc-shaped speakers fitted inside wide headbands. Even though most of those headphones would technically be considered on-ear devices, that headband will go a long way toward muffling any leaking noise.
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Aside from those kinds of products, you could also use low-profile earbuds for this purpose. Unlike regular earbuds, these wouldn’t go as deeply into your ear canal, and would therefore be comfortable even for side sleepers. However, if you’re going to snooze with headphones on, sleeping on your back would still be your best bet.
4. Sleep on Your Back
Sleeping on your back is good for your spine, it reduces headaches, and even prevents wrinkles. And now, we can add another point to that list of benefits. It’ll also save your ears from the additional pressure your headphones might exert on them.
Of course, different people naturally prefer different sleeping positions. That’s not something you can force — or is it? According to Internet wisdom, you can always transition to sleeping on your back by:
- Getting the right mattress and pillow for it. When shopping, look for supportive mattresses and pillows that are on the firmer side. If you get a pillow with a curve in it, it’ll be more difficult to get comfortable sleeping in any position other than on your back.
- Putting a leg elevation pillow or a rolled-up blanket under your knees. Slightly bending your legs at the knees will flatten out your back and make the experience of sleeping in that position much more pleasant. Additionally, it’ll prevent you from rolling to the side or sleeping on your stomach.
- Building barriers on both sides of your body. Putting pillows under your shoulders and waist will prevent you from turning over. You’d only have to keep the additional support there until you get used to sleeping on your back. Just think of the pillows as training wheels!
If knowing how easy it is to train yourself to sleep on your back isn’t a good enough incentive to actually do it, will it help to know that other sleeping positions are bad for you? Even though sleeping on your stomach can decrease snoring, keeping your head turned to the side may hurt your neck. What’s more, the position can add pressure to your stomach and worsen back pain.
But what about sleeping on your side?
5. Use a Pillow With a Hole
Sleeping on your side probably won’t cause any health problems as long as you keep your spine aligned by placing a pillow between your knees. But if you’re planning on wearing chunky headphones while sleeping in this position, you might want to consider buying a pillow with a hole.
After all, applying pressure to the side of your head while wearing most kinds of headphones is a pretty bad idea. It would hurt — a lot — unless you were using a flat, on-ear model that’s specifically made for sleep. Otherwise, you should use a pillow that would relieve the pressure from your ears.
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Fortunately, several products fit the bill. Just look for pillows with an ear hole — most of them will provide the ear pain relief you want. The holes in question are usually right in the middle of the pillow, measuring only a few inches across. So you’ll have neck support and a convenient pocket to lower your headphones into.
6. Get a Travel Pillow (and Other DIY Methods)
If you already have a travel pillow, that might be a great temporary solution for sleeping on your side with headphones on. You could either use it on its own or put it over your pillow if the combined height of the two pillows doesn’t make it uncomfortable.
Once you have the pillow where you want it, you can drop your ear into what would otherwise be the neck hole. Alternatively, if you don’t even have a travel pillow, you may be able to maneuver the pillow stuffing to the sides of the pillowcase to make a hole in the pillow. But that would only work if your pillow isn’t made of memory foam, which has become increasingly unlikely.
And if you do have a memory foam pillow, you could alleviate the pressure from the ear you’re sleeping on by creating a donut shape with a towel. That should elevate your head and create the hole your ear is going to need.
What You Can Listen To
Now that you’re in bed with your headphones on, there’s only one question left to answer. What should you listen to? Trust me, your regular playlist may not do the trick. After all, it’s probably full of pump-up songs — and that’s certainly not what you want to listen to around bedtime.
Instead, if you even want to stick with music, you should opt for more soothing and meditative tracks. According to some studies, classical music has had beneficial effects on patients suffering from PTSD and insomnia. But you don’t have to listen to Chopin and Beethoven if they’re not your cup of tea. There are plenty of sleep-inducing playlists on your favorite digital music services if you care to look for them.
Alternatively, you may prefer to fall asleep to the sound of someone’s voice. In the age of podcasts, you’ll easily find what you’re looking for. But if you’re usually jittery at night, I suggest that you leave listening to true crime podcasts to your morning self.
Instead, you could listen to Sleep With Me or Game of Drones, two podcasts I’ve previously recommended, or Nothing Much Happens, which is a more recent discovery. In these bedtime podcasts, the hosts do their best to bore you to sleep. While they drone on about hellishly trivial subjects, you get to just focus on your breathing until you conk out.
Of course, if you’re one of those people that can’t zone out if they can hear some kind of melody or vocals, you may just have to settle for white noise. Hey, if it can block out the sound of snoring, it should be able to muffle your inner monologue.
Alternatives to Sleeping With Headphones On
If you’ve been thinking about getting headphones for sleep, I’m going to assume that you prefer to doze off with some kind of noise surrounding you. However, if you haven’t had much success wearing headphones to bed, you might have to use:
- Your phone to play whatever you want and hope it won’t bother your roommate or partner. In fact, you could even have them put on headphones or earplugs instead!
- A bedside Bluetooth speaker if you like to keep your phone away from your bed. You’ll even find that some of them also have white noise features.
- A white noise sound machine with nature sound effects. Of course, those sound profiles are also available on YouTube and other platforms.
On the other hand, if you don’t particularly like falling asleep in a noisy environment, you could try:
- Earplugs, which provide almost complete silence but may irritate your ears if you don’t choose the right ones. There are disposable foam ones, reusable silicon plugs, and moldable ones. But even within those groups, different softness levels and shapes influence the fit. So choose wisely!
- Earmuffs, which are like sleep headphones anyway since they cover your ears in a similar way. They aren’t as effective at noise insulation as earplugs, but you may find them more comfortable, at least. Additionally, some of them even double as sleeping masks. While we’re on the subject, you might want to check out this eye mask with built-in wireless headphones.
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Conk Out to the Sound of Your Favorite Tunes
There are many benefits to sleeping with headphones on. A good pair of headphones can completely shut out any external noise and replace it with a more relaxing soundscape. However, I’d still advise against sleeping with headphones unless you have no other choice.
Give your ears a break! If the person you’re sleeping next to doesn’t mind low-level noise, it’s best to just let whatever you’re listening to drone on from a bedside device. On the other hand, if you have to wear headphones for whatever reason, I hope the tips I’ve shared will help you protect your ears from the extra pressure.