A good night's sleep is vital for staying healthy. While a comfy bed and good "sleep hygiene" are both important factors, a decent pair of headphones can help too. As well as lulling you with soothing tunes or a podcast to clear your head, the best headphones for sleeping can also help block out the noise outside your window.
So what should you look for in a decent pair of sleep headphones? Here's a few handy pointers to get you started...
How to choose the best headphones for sleeping
Obviously comfort is key here – you're not going to drift off to the land of nod if your ears are in agony. If you want in-ears you'll need a decent seal from the ear tips but you'll also want earpieces that don't protrude too far and that could get caught on your pillow. If it's an over-ear pair you're going for, make sure their ear cups and headband are nicely cushioned and not too bulky.
Then there's the style. Wireless headphones are best, as there's no cable to get tangled up in. If you opt for on-ear headphones, you'll probably have to sleep on your back as it's likely to be too uncomfortable on your side (the smaller earcups tend to put too much pressure on the side of your head).
You should consider the placement of the headphone controls, too. Some wireless models have controls built into the side of the earbud, which you don't want pressing down into the pillow, as it could activate them with the slightest movement. In-ears might work better with just one earbud in your non-pillow-resting ear, if you can live without listening in stereo.
Last but by no means least, you need to consider sound quality. Thankfully, all the models listed here are excellent performers in their own right – all you need do is pick the design that best for you.
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Say hello to the 'Best wireless earbuds over £200' at the What Hi-Fi Awards 2022. As the title of the award suggests, these premium Bluetooth in-ears sound amazing and set a new benchmark for wireless earbuds at this level. And now they've added aptX Adaptive, you can listen through one bud – perfect for drifting off to sleep without unnecessarily draining the battery of both buds.
They’re around a third smaller than the original QuietComfort Earbuds but we’re pleased to report comfort levels, haven't been affected. In fact, our review team found them to be even more comfortable than the superb Sony WF-1000XM4 (just below).
Bluetooth 5.3 is a big bonus, and the Bose app allows you to alter the amount of noise-cancelling on offer via a number of customisable presets. Speaking of which, the QC Earbuds II automatically adjust the amount of ANC on offer so your music isn’t drowned out by particularly loud noises.
It's a shame that there's no wireless charging, but that's hardly the end of the world. If you're looking for the best wireless headphones for sleeping in, look no further.
Read the full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review
The Sony WF-1000XM4 were named 'Best wireless earbuds £100-£200' at the What Hi-Fi Awards 2022. We've made no secret of our love for the noise-cancelling buds and the good news is they're as good for sleeping in as they are an everyday pair of headphones.
Comfort really is top-notch, which isn't surprising when you consider that the earbud design is based on a combination of customer feedback and hours of research into the shape of the human ear.
New look aside, the XM4 come with brand new ear tips made from polyurethane, which feels like a cross between silicone and foam. In out tests, these buds sat snugly in ours ears and proved comfortable over longer listening sessions.
An impressive eight hours of battery life should be more than enough to lull you to sleep and the noise-cancelling should keep you there.
Sound quality – they produce an open, spacious sound that gives every vocal room to breathe – is superb and you can use one bud on its own. A splendid option for anyone seeking Mister Sandman.
The Melomania 1 Plus – a refined take on the original Melomania 1– last a marathon nine hours, which should see most people all the way through the night. (If you sleep more than nine hours a night, lucky you.)
When you're not sleeping, take the carry case with you, and its recharging skills will give you a whopping 45 hours of juice to play with. Handy if you find yourself far from a charging point and in need of some shut-eye.
You can also control them just by speaking using Siri or Google Assistant, which is a lot simpler when you're bleary-eyed at 3am.
The sound quality is very good indeed, especially at this price. They're at ease handling dynamic shifts, and render an excellent amount of detail. Just a word of warning – the fit split opinion in the office, so it might be best to try them in your ears before you buy.
Read the full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
Apple's in-ear AirPods have always been decent, but unremarkable – something their string of four-star reviews attests to. But with the AirPods Pro 2, Apple has made a pair of true wireless buds capable of achieving that elusive fifth star.
How? Better noise-cancelling, better battery life, new features and more importantly, better audio performance. They also cost the same as their predecessors at launch, which certainly helps their cause.
New eartip sizes help with fit, and thanks to their vents, they should feel a lot less intrusive. You can use one bud at a time, which makes them idea for those who like to sleep on their side (you can charge the other AirPod when not in use).
The noise-cancelling blocks out twice as much background sound as their predecessors, while Adaptive Transparency muffles loud noises when letting in ambient sounds. For iOS users, the AirPod Pro 2 are some of the best headphones for sleeping in.
Read the full Apple AirPods Pro 2 review
The XM5 might not look quite as plush or premium as their predecessors, the WH-1000XM4, but are just as comfortable. They also feature a 'noiseless' design with minimal sharp edges which should boost your chances of sleeping like a baby.
Whether you sleep on your front or back, the XM5 headband exerts just enough pressure to keep the headphones in place without crushing our ears. The band is completely covered in a new synthetic leather that also covers the memory foam earpads. It’s soft and smooth to the touch.
Sound quality is a noticeable improvement on the XM4 and features such as ‘Speak to Chat’, which allows you to talk to someone while the headphones are still on your head, elevate the user experience.
If you're off to the land of nod, it's well worth taking these sensational Sony headphones along for the ride.
Read the full Sony WH-1000XM5 review
Check out our list of the best Sony headphones
The Apple AirPods Max cost more than most other premium wireless noise-cancelling headphones but they're extremely comfy and therefore well-suited to slumber.
Between the cups and your head are memory foam cushions that easily surround even the largest ears, creating a seal that’s both gentle and surprisingly effective at physically blocking out sound. Sound is detailed, crisp and spacious.
It's important to note you need an iPhone or iPad to get the most out of the AirPods Max. Whilst they do work with non-Apple products using standard Bluetooth 5.0, you’ll miss out on many of their unique features.
Still, if you're a keen Apple user with a healthy budget, these are some of the best headphones for sleeping in.
Read the full Apple AirPods Max review
Think of Sony's WF-C500 wireless earbuds as a no-frills version of the WF-1000XM4 (above). They deliver a lot of what makes those wireless earbuds a success without cutting too many corners.
They're simple to get into position and will stay comfortable for hours once they’re there, making them some of the best headphones for sleeping in. They're also good for running and sports, thanks to their IPX4 rating.
Sound is nicely balanced and battery life is 10 hours (from the buds themselves). That should be plenty for most, although the case only provides another 10 hours, meaning the total battery life can be bettered by some rivals.
Still, if you're after a great sub-£100 pair of headphones for sleeping in, the Sony WF-C500 should be on your shortlist. They won 'Best wireless earbuds under £100' at the 2022 What Hi-Fi? Awards, which attests to their brilliance.
Read the full Sony WF-C500 review
The AKG N60NC are so comfortable even those who dislike on-ears will happily wear them all day (or all night, as the case may be). And the noise-cancellation is very good, able to reduce any nocturnal goings-on to just a background murmur. Next door can play their TV as loud as they like.
Battery life is a particular strong point for these AKGs. They're good for a marathon 30 hours, but activate the noise-cancelling and that drops to a more respectable 15 hours. Either way, they should last the night and still have enough juice for a morning commute.
Controls on the right ear cup are simple to use, so they won't frustrate you while you're trying to nod off.
As for sound, there's an impressive amount of detail on show, which, when combined with the noise-cancellation, will help you forget about the real world and focus on getting some shut-eye. If you're struggling to sleep on a train or plane, these could be an ideal choice.
Read the full AKG N60NC Wireless review
How we test headphones
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door.
Of course, testing headphones don't often require such facilities (though we do often try audiophile headphones in our reference hi-fi system). What is important in our headphones reviewing process is that each pair is compared to the best in its price and style class – whether that's one standout pair or a few we favour the highest among the 100+ pairs we listen to each year for reviews and What Hi-Fi? Awards judging. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, and we keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can always compare new products to ones we know and love.
We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product at their very best, so we'll try plenty of different types of music and give them plenty of listening time (and time to run in), while the wired headphones that might warrant being used with a DAC are tested with a suitable one. It's not just about sound quality, of course. If a pair has active noise cancellation – increasingly the case these days – we'll ensure part of our testing involves using them in different environments.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.
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