Sleeping with Noise Cancelling Headphones: Top 5 Downsides!


So you’re a light sleeper and the burglars truly don’t stand a chance? Yet sometimes you wish you didn’t have such laser hearing because it’s disrupting your sleep. Especially if you have a snoring partner, your superpower can become quite a headache. Don’t ask me how I know all of this!

If you’ve been on my blog before, I’ve discussed how sensitive I am to noise. It’s what got me into soundproofing in the first place. But I always tell people that the cheapest way to cancel noise is not soundproofing, it’s simply wearing a good set of noise cancelling headphones when the noise is truly troublesome. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

When it comes to sleep however, there are some downsides to wearing headphones. Also, when it comes to blocking out snoring, there’s a much better option that I’ll be sharing with you.

Cons of Sleeping With Noise Cancelling Headphones

1. It’s hard (well, more like impossible) to sleep on the sides

This is the main downside. If you’re not used to sleeping on your back, the noise will be the least of your problems. Also, there is a fair amount data suggesting that sleeping on the back is the least healthy position because it can cause breathing problems. Including snoring.

Sleeping on the stomach is also not ideal because you’re pressing on the stomach, which can lead to acid reflux. Not to mention that it’s bad for the neck and spine. So it’s best to sleep on one side or the other, which is almost impossible with headphones.

The main alternative then is to wear noise-cancelling ear buds or simple ear plugs. However, those have their own little quirks and cons, like the uncomfortable feeling of having a big artificial lump filling your ear canal.

Another alternative is to wear a sleeping mask or a headband that has some potential for noise cancelling. However, don’t expect the same level of cancellation from these because they are much thinner.

Unfortunately there’s no perfect solution for this problem. So if you want to cancel out noise with headphones, you’ll probably have to sleep on your back throughout the night.

2. You’ll have to ramp up volume to block out snoring (or tape their mouth, seriously)

Noise-cancelling headphones typically work well at blocking medium level noise coming from outside the room. But if you’re sharing the room with a loud, snoring partner, you’ll need to ramp up the volume.

However, if this is the reason for your troubles, you might be looking at the wrong place. Try this instead – ask the snorer to tape their mouth with medical tape while they sleep. I’m 100% serious. Many people can eliminate sleep apnea and snoring by simply taping their mouths.

This method has been recommended by breathing experts such as Patrick McKeown who wrote The Oxygen Advantage, and also expert of the Buteyko Method.

It’s not dangerous because when the mouth is shut the body is forced to relax the airways to allow breathing to continue through the nose. Unless the person has some serious obstruction in their nose canals this can not only reduce or eliminate their snoring, it can help both of you sleep better!

So try it, medical tape is very cheap. I suggest taping your own mouth as well because it will improve your sleep and general wellbeing. I do it all the time as do some aware athletes.

Another good alternative is an anti-snoring chin strap (link to Amazon). Again, it’s the same principle, keeping the mouth shut to prevent snoring.

In addition to these tactics, the snorer can also use anti-snoring nose clips to keep the sinuses open which should also reduce their desire to mouth breath.

3. Your ears need air too

Wearing headphones all through the night isn’t dangerous per se, but it’s not healthy either. Ears need fresh air for their ecosystem to remain balanced. Wearing headphones or ear buds all the time increases the risk of an ear infection.

Headphones cause hot ears and more moisture in the ear canal, especially if you’re sweating through the night. The risk is amplified the longer you wear them because of old bacteria and grime collecting on the ear piece.

However, if you have to choose between headphones and earbuds, headphones are the healthier option in this regard.

4. You could get strangled by the cord

Seriously, how likely is that to happen? Not likely. However, if you go to sleep very intoxicated, it can be dangerous if the wire ends up around your neck and you’re unable to remove it.

Again, not a likely scenario but worth knowing about. In any case, this danger can be completely eliminated by using wireless headphones.

5. Too much sound isolation

Are you sure that you want to completely isolate yourself from noise while sleeping? Your eyes aren’t working, your nose is pretty much useless unless there’s a fire.. so what sense can you depend on in case of an emergency?

There could be a break-in, an emergency call or the start of WW3 and you’d sleep in until it’s too late. Well, perhaps you’d miss forced mobilization and that could save your life. But more realistically, you’ll forget to wake up at time for work.

This is why my recommendation is moderate noise isolation. Wear noise-cancelling headphones if it helps, but keep the volume of your binaural beats or Bach to a point where you’re able to hear louder sounds… like a window being broken from the outside or a call for help from a housemate.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, not being able to sleep on the side is really a major downside of sleeping with headphones. It’s the main reason why I rarely wear them in bed. I typically wear headphones until I fall asleep by listening to ASMR. Then later I take them off and go back to sleep normally.

Because, even if you can fall asleep lying on your back, you’ll likely struggle to maintain that position throughout the night. So if the noise is only bothersome at some specific period of the night, wearing the headphones and removing them later might be a good option.

All of the other downsides that I’ve mentioned are more subjective. For snoring, taping the perpetrator’s mouth might be a better and more affordable option for all parties involved.

As for the “hot ears” syndrome, some people have very healthy ears so the extra bacteria, grime and sweat from the headphones won’t impact them at all. For others, it can cause troubles.

Unless you really get smashed and put them on, it’s highly unlikely you’ll off yourself accidentally with the cord either.

However, my last point, the danger of complete sensory isolation should be taken into account. Emergencies happen, and you don’t want to be completely deaf and unable to recognize the danger.

So I hope I’ve given you a fresh perspective on this topic! Remember that there are also many other things you can do to make your room quieter like invest in some nice noise-reducing curtains or bolster the bedroom door with soundproof panels, some foam tape and a door stopper.

Another thing you can do is use a white noise machine to muffle out the annoying noise with relaxing white noise. It helps!

Related posts:

Best noise-cancelling headphones for studying

Best noise-cancelling headphones under $50

Luka Baron

Soundproof expert and a staunch opponent of noise. This website is a free source of information on how to 'keep it down a notch'. I update the content regularly to keep up with advancements in the soundproofing industry.

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