Review: Bose QuietComfort 20 Headphones for Sleeping


My rating: 4/5

[Note: Bose recently announced Sleepbuds. Here’s our write up]

Last year I moved into a charming, but seriously creaky old row house apartment with no soundproofing between floors. The footsteps of the 6’6’’ former college basketball player living above sounded like crackling thunder over my head. Combined with the evening sub woofer beats emanating from the unit below, a loud AC unit and a sometimes snorer next to me, it was the perfect storm for a light sleeper.

I first turned to earplugs. After reading extensive online reviews, I settled on Flents for the combination of comfort and decibel reducing capability. While good at reducing higher frequencies, the low-frequency thundering above and pulsing below seeped through. With a pillow over my head and the plugs in, things were certainly better – but not great.

Desperate for a solution to low frequency noise, I began my quest starting with noise cancelling materials. Not so practical for an apartment, it turns out. While I’d read about noise cancelling headphones, I had my doubts. I’d tried some cheap noise cancelling cans in the past and was not impressed. The Bose headphones seemed like they might be a colossal waste of money. I’d read they will block out constant low frequency sounds like a jet engine – while my problem was more irregular and sudden noises.

After a particularly bad night, a $250 bet on better sleep suddenly became reasonable. I pressed “buy” with same day delivery on the Bose QuietComfort 20 (the 20i is the same but for iPhone users). They arrived in a blue box containing the headphones, two extra earpiece sizes, a USB charger, and an instruction manual with tiny print in about 15 different languages. The headphones themselves have a medium length cord that’s a bit thicker than normal to fit both the sound + sound cancelling technology. At the plugin terminus is a lightweight rectangular unit housing the noise cancelling technology. Closer to the buds is a smaller volume controller and “awareness” button turns the noise cancelling technology off so ambient sounds can be heard.

I flipped the noise cancelling activation switch on. The effect was immediate and frankly uncanny. Nearby speaking was reduced to a very  faint murmur. The sound of a nearby fan was completely gone even without any music playing yet. This was far beyond what my ear plugs were capable of, despite similar decibel reduction claims. It turns out, the frequency level of sound reduction is critical.

But now came the moment of truth. Can I sleep in these? And do they block the terrorizing neighbor noise? Setting up some soft, relaxing bionic music via my phone (plenty of it free on YouTube), I fitted the earpieces and settled down on the pillow. While I wish the cord was a little longer as I have no bedside table table, my phone is able to rest on the floor if I’m near the edge of the bed. The earpieces themselves fit snugly (they are supposed to), putting a little more pressure on the upper ear area vs. ear plugs, but much less pressure inside the ear canal itself. The soft rubber material Bose uses is much more comfortable than my $10 Panasonic earbuds. Overall, the comfort is good enough for sleep – especially after months of earplugs.

As a primarily tummy/side sleeper, I was worried about comfort with my head against the pillow. Indeed, the earbuds protrude a bit. On a soft pillow, it IS possible to sleep with them in – but I’d recommend buying a pillow that’s specifically built to reduce ear pressure (see pillows for side sleepers).

And most importantly, the neighbor noises – they almost completely went away! With the soft relaxing soundtrack playing (anything too loud and I can’t sleep even if it’s relaxing), I have not noticed my neighbors in days. Yes, it is possible to hear a few muffled tones now and then but it’s nothing like before. Could this be the perfect solution to my problems? Just about, yes.

Each night, I do wake up about 2 hours into sleep and turn off the music and remove the earbuds. Because the neighbor noise is gone then, it’s more comfortable to sleep without them. The little pressure they do produce can become a tad uncomfortable after 2+ hours if you’re extra sensitive to that like me. But because I’m relaxed at this point, it’s very easy to get back to sleep. With the earplugs, it was difficult to get back to sleep after removing them due to the restless quality of my sleep pattern. As I get used to the experience, perhaps I’ll keep them on through the night. The built-in battery lasts 16 hours and is rechargeable by USB, unlike most other noise cancelling headphones that drain through batteries.

If you’re at your wits end with noise keeping you awake, I strongly recommend making the investment. With a full refund available after up to 30 days, it’s worth a try.

UPDATE: I’ve been using these to sleep for nearly 2 years. The most I use them, the more comfortable they’ve become. I still take them out after about an hour or two, after which I’m able to quickly fall asleep. Unfortunately, one of the buds developed a problem, omitting a light buzz noise. Thankfully, Bose fully replaced them at no charge. The new pair have been working great. However, I’m going to lower my rating to 4 from 4.5 to account for the hassle of dealing with the replacement.

Next: Read Bose QuietComfort 20 user reviews & check prices

The New Bose Sleepbuds: Everything You Need to Know

Bose recently announced development of its first in-ear bud design specifically for sleeping. Will this be the game changer light sleepers are looking for? Those familiar with Bose products know its patented noise-cancelling products are the best on the market. Many currently use its model 20 for sleeping despite the form factor limitations.

But the Bose Sleepbuds do not use this noise-cancelling technology. Instead, they are noise-masking. They play sounds aimed at drowning out surrounding noise. The buds come with an accompanying Bose app that plays soothing sounds similar to the countless sleep apps currently available. You might wonder: can’t I already do this with sleep-friendly earphones and my iPhone app? Yes, but Bose promises a design that’s a step above the competition.

Even slim earbuds can be painful for side or stomach sleepers [see our recommended side and stomach sleeper pillows]. The Bose Sleepbuds promise to be more comfortable for any type of sleeper, thanks to their cordless, slim design with an earpiece that stays comfortable longer.

The biggest downside, potentially a deal breaker for some, is Sleepbuds can only play the Bose-selected sounds and won’t plug into other 3rd party music apps. So don’t expect to be lulled to sleep by your favorite NPR podcast. Included on the Bose app is an alarm option to wake you up in the morning.

An early-adopter trail of Sleepbuds, promoted through Indigogo, is already full.  Several trial product price tiers were offered ranging from $150-$185. These Sleepbuds will ship to this early customer group in February 2018. The mass market release is currently slated for later in 2018, with an anticipated price of $249.

Sleepbuds come with tiny internal batteries that last for 2 nights without charge, so sleepers will need to remember to plug them in every other day. A USB wall charger is included.

If the concept of Sleepbuds sounds familiar, you’re not mistaken. Bose purchased a company called Hushbuds that debuted a very similar product, but never made it into the hands of consumers. We can assume Sleepbuds will be an iterative improvement on the original Hushbuds.

What are some alternatives to Sleepbuds while you wait to try them? As mentioned above, the Bose QuietComfort 20 headphones are popular with sleepers and employ real noise-cancelling tech. If noise is a real issue, it doesn’t get better than these — and they work without any music playing. There are numerous cheap noise-masking earplug options available on the market as well of varying quality. Below is a sampling of what’s available on Amazon. Issues with currently available products ranges from over-heating face masks to uncomfortable wires, but a compromise for better sleep is one many are willing to make.

7 Best Pillows for Side and Tummy Sleepers

Did you know that only 8% of adults sleep on their backs? While it is the most healthy sleep position, it doesn’t work for most of us. Despite this, most mass market pillows seem to be designed for a minority of use cases. Along with side and stomach sleepers, the typical pillow is especially uncomfortable for those of us relying on earplugs or headphones to get to sleep. The good news is alternative options abound. We’ve researched scores of pillows for every type of side and tummy sleeper to help you find the best option.

For stomach sleepers

The stomach sleeping position is especially susceptible to neck pain. Unlike side sleeping, the head is not elevated off the surface of the bed by the shoulder. As a result, most pillows will uncomfortably bend the spinal cord up resulting in stiffness in the morning — and potential long term effects on the posture. For the typical stomach sleeper, comfort can be achieved with a super thin memory foam pillow. We recommend this model from Bluewave which is just over 2.5 inches thick and includes a cooling gel.


For side sleepers

Z Gel Memory Foam L-Shape Pillow for Side Sleeping Comfort

The challenge for side sleepers is maintaining a proper posture as shifting occurs during the night, sometimes putting extra strain on the neck and spine as the pillow position moves. To help keep your body in the right position, we suggest a L-shaped side sleeper pillow. It will position your spine in the right place all night long. We recommend the “Z” model for its cooling GEL DOUGH memory foam. Users praise its “perfect” height and size.


For side sleepers with acid reflux

For people with acid reflux, side sleeping can be especially frustrating. To keep the body at an incline, many simply prop up the bed or spend a lot of money on a special mattress. Thankfully there is a pillow designed specifically for side sleepers with acid reflux. While it is on the expensive, side it gets high praise from users. The key is a ergonomically designed hole your arm fits though, making side sleeping at an incline much more comfortable and natural feeling.


For side sleepers’ knees

If you’re a side sleeper who finds his or her knees uncomfortably knocking/rubbing together during the night, consider a pillow specifically designed for this problem: a knee pillow. Especially helpful for folks with sciatic nerve pain resulting from undue pressure, it offers comfort and relief for all side sleepers with leg and knee discomfort.


For fetal position sleepers

The fetal position is the most popular sleeping position. These curled up sleepers would do well with a side sleeping pillow recommended above. But to get the total fetal experience, as if you’re being cradled in the mother’s womb, we would be remiss not to recommend a fantastic full body pillow by Leachco called “Snoogle.” Winning rave reviews from sleepers, this pillow is curved to offer maximum comfort to fetal position sleepers across key pressure point areas. This pillow gets especially high praise from pregnant women, for whom proper support is absolutely critical.


For sleep position switchers

If, like many people, you shift around at night between sleeping positions, you’ll need a more versatile option. For these folks, we recommend checking out the Cervical Contour pillow. This “butteryfly” shaped pillow contains a dip in the middle, allowing you to take advantage of two different elevations should you choose. It has a slight incline to help the neck stay comfortable. Unlike the memory foam products recommended above, this pillow is a bit firmer offering greater support.


For sleepers with earplugs or earbuds

For side or tummy sleepers who rely on ear plugs, earbuds or who simply have sensitive ears, most pillows are extremely uncomfortable. The good news is there are pillows with indentation in the middle that free up your ears. For fun, we suggest testing out doughnut-designed pillow – guaranteed to give your ears the freedom they deserve.