Bose Sleepbuds mask noise to help you drift off to sleep

Like many people, I suffer from insomnia. I’ve always found it hard to go to sleep. Whether I’m replaying the embarrassing moments slideshow, having imaginary arguments, or stressing out about the next day, I find it frustratingly difficult to switch off at night. I’m also sensitive to sound. Snoring, central heating kicking in, music from the neighbors, or birds tweeting in the morning all regularly rip me from my slumber. In recent years tinnitus has joined the list — a high-pitched ringing in my ears that gets worse when I’m stressed.

I’m not alone. Millions of people have trouble sleeping. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems. Little wonder then that a sleep industry has sprung up to analyze our sleep and help us drift off to the land of nod and stay there until morning. Bose Sleepbuds were designed for precisely that purpose. These noise masking earbuds hook up to your phone and play soothing sounds to lull you to sleep. If you value your shut-eye, then you may be willing to pay the rather steep $250 price tag. But should you? I’ve spent some time with them to see if the earbuds could help my sleep problems.

Clever design, and super stylish charging case

The Bose Sleepbuds use noise masking technology; it doesn’t offer noise cancellation as you might expect. The earbuds are much like the wireless earbuds you might use to listen to music, and it comes with three sets of differently sized noise-isolating ear tips. Getting the right fit is vital for your comfort and to ensure that sound is blocked out. The idea is that you try the different sizes of ear tips and find the one that fits your ear ridge. Then pop the Sleepbuds in, and rotate them to form a seal. You may find you need a different size for each ear. Even without hooking up to the app, it should muffle the sound around you.

I’ve used regular foam earplugs in times of sleepless desperation and the Sleepbuds compare quite favorably. The special tips lock them securely in place and it’s reasonably comfortable if you’re the kind of person who wears earbuds and don’t mind them. It’s actually the smallest product Bose has ever made — each bud is about 1 centimeter across and weighs in at 1.4 grams. It won’t fall out when you move around, and it sits flush in the ear so it won’t catch on your bedding, though I did find lying on my side to be a bit uncomfortable. If you’ve tried earplugs or earbuds before and find them uncomfortable, then the Bose Sleepbuds are probably not going to work for you.

It comes in a super stylish, futuristic, aluminum charging case that slides open. The Sleepbuds are guided into place magnetically and a series of white LEDs confirms it’s charging and shows the power level. The charging case is probably my favorite part about the Bose Sleepbuds. The irresistible sliding lid mechanism, the ease of slotting the Sleepbuds in, and the reassuring glowing white lights all make for something you won’t mind having on the nightstand. It has a Micro USB port in back which you can plug into a standard charger.

It takes around eight hours to fully charge the Sleepbuds and then it’s good for 16 hours. That means you should get at least two nights of use from a single charge. The case also contains a battery, so when it’s fully charged, which takes around three hours, it can fully charge the Sleepbuds once without having to be plugged in. The battery and portability are ideal for travel.

Soothing sounds from smartphone app

Before you can use the Bose Sleepbuds, you’ll need to install the Bose Sleep app for Android or iOS. The Sleepbuds connect to the app on your phone via Bluetooth. I found it paired up quickly and easily, as long as the earbuds were out of the case and charged.

You have a choice of 10 different sounds in the app from things like Warm Static, which is exactly what it sounds like, to Swell, which is waves on a beach. Bose started off with a wide library of sounds and had testers score them so it could boil down the selection. Since the most popular use for Bose’s Sleepbuds is to mask the noise of a snoring partner, most of the sounds are designed to match that frequency of sound and distract your brain just enough that the snoring doesn’t bother you anymore.

For me, it worked well to drown out general background noise and also to distract from tinnitus, but you can still hear what’s going on around you. For example, the distant sounds of traffic and construction were drowned out for me, but I could hear my partner talking to me.

You can select the volume level that works for you and the time you want the sound to play for, from half an hour up to all night long. I’ve always liked the sound of rain, so I picked Shower. I found that the sound was soothing and it helped me relax, but the first night I tried them I ended up removing them before falling asleep because it felt a little uncomfortable when I turned over to sleep on my side.

The feeling of having something in your ears is going to be enough to put some people off. I persisted and found that I got more used to it, but I probably wouldn’t choose to use the Sleepbuds unless there was a specific sound disturbance or my tinnitus was particularly bad. In those cases, the Sleepbuds are way better than traditional ear plugs. The fact that it plays a soothing sound, rather than just muffle or block noises, makes all the difference. But if you don’t share a bed, you could play a sound like that on your phone and skip the discomfort of wearing something all night.

Coping with a snoring partner is the main reason people will buy the Bose Sleepbuds and, provided you don’t find them too uncomfortable to wear, I think it will offer some sweet relief in that department. I can also see them being invaluable for frequent travelers who need to get forty winks without being disturbed by unfamiliar sounds.

The app also allows you to set an alarm that only you will hear, which could prove handy for people who need to get up before their partners and don’t want to wake them.

The only issue I encountered with the app was a repeated failure to update the software. It would connect to the Sleepbuds, tell me I needed to update, I’d tap to start updating and then it would fail without any obvious reason.

Limitations and future improvements

Bose Sleepbuds
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

You may be wondering why the Bose Sleepbuds don’t do more, but there is a good reason it focuses purely on sleep and offers a limited selection of soothing sounds. It’s mainly to do with the small size and the trade-off in battery life. Because the Sleepbuds are so small, it can only hold 10 or 12 sounds at once. Noise cancellation would require more power and microphones, which would have made the Sleepbuds bigger and less comfortable. Music streaming would also be a bigger drain on power and most music isn’t really effective at masking sounds anyway.

While there are solid reasons for the limitations, you may still feel that the Bose Sleepbuds are a bit overpriced at $250.

I’m pleased to report that Bose is committed to improving the Sleepbuds through software updates and it has been listening to feedback. Since release, Bose has rolled out another 10 sounds for people to choose from, it has added a phone-free mode to allow you to use the Sleepbuds without having to access the app, and it has added a dark mode for the app replacing the white backgrounds with black.

Sleep deprivation is incredibly bad for your general well being and a recent Philips study found that 80 percent of people want to improve the quality of their sleep, so there’s definitely a place for a product like this. For some people, the Bose Sleepbuds are going to be a life-changing revelation, but it won’t work for everyone.

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