Tech gadgets have helped us work more productively and play more. But they have also exacerbated a problem: poor sleep.
Obsessed with the number of “likes” you get on an Instagram photo or a Facebook post? Check. Do the devices keep you up at night with bright screens? Check. Do you keep sneaking glances at your smartphone for new messages, news and more? Check.
Even the mere presence of a smaller screen in the bedroom has been associated with shorter sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have declared sleep deprivation a public health epidemic, with one-third of American adults getting insufficient slumber, recommend “turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom.”
But what happens if there is technology that actually helps you sleep?
That’s what I wondered when I heard that Bose, a well-known audio brand, had developed a pair of $ 250 earbuds to mask noise and help people doze off. The tiny wireless earphones, called Sleepbuds, fit snugly inside your ears and play soothing sounds, like the rustle of leaves or a crackling campfire, on a loop all night.
The Sleepbuds are part of a nascent category of sleep tech products. Those include sleep-monitoring wrist bands and mattress pads from companies like Fitbit and Withings, and special lights that help you get out of bed from Philips and Verilux.
After I spent five nights with the Sleepbuds, my verdict was mixed. Though the earbuds are well designed and comfortable to wear lying down, they didn’t help me sleep more. Over all, the product did a good job of helping me ignore annoying noises at night, which helped me conclude that noise was not the root of my sleep problems.
Here’s what I found.
Impressive hardware with some drawbacks
The Sleepbuds are a solid piece of industrial design. A metal hockey-puck-shaped case slides open to reveal the earbuds. The case holds each earbud in place with magnets. When you remove the earbuds, they turn on; when you clip the earbuds back onto the magnets, the case recharges their batteries. This clever design is reminiscent of Apple’s AirPods, which also come in a carrying case that doubles as a charger.
Yet the Bose case could be better. When you open it up, its LED light illuminates to signal that the Sleepbuds are charging. That is helpful for seeing the tiny earbuds in the dark. The downside is that the case does not light up when you open it to store the Sleepbuds. When I got up early in the morning before the sun came up, I struggled to put the Sleepbuds back inside the case in the dark and ended up leaving them on my nightstand.
The earbud modules are also extremely small — about the size of a pinkie fingertip. You insert them into silicone tips that go into your ear canal and tuck under your ear ridge. Bose provides three sizes, and I used the small eartips.
The Sleepbuds are noise-masking — not noise-canceling — earbuds. Noise-canceling earphones eliminate low-frequency noises, like the engine of an airplane, but they don’t cancel out loud noises like a snorer next to you or a screaming baby. Noise masking involves playing a background noise that helps your brain stop paying attention to unwanted sounds.
Limited software, with more to come
Because the Sleepbuds were designed to muffle unwanted noise, they specifically play sounds like raindrops or a water stream. There were only 10 sounds, none of which I loved. I ended up choosing the raindrops track, which did a fine job drowning out noise from my pets.
But for earbuds this pricey, shouldn’t there be more than 10 tracks to choose from?
Brian Mulcahey, a director of Bose’s wellness products, said that to preserve battery life, the sound files are stored on the earbuds, which have limited storage, rather than streamed from a smartphone — hence the few options. He added that in about a month, Bose would release more tracks that people would be able to load onto the earbuds, including sounds designed to help people ease their anxiety or fight insomnia.
“We’re hearing from many, many customers that this is a very common problem,” Mr. Mulcahey said about mental issues preventing sleep.
A pricey experiment
In the end, I recommend trying the Sleepbuds if you have sleep problems — with many caveats.
Before considering Sleepbuds, try to determine what is preventing you from sleeping. Experts said a plethora of problems contributed to slumber deprivation, including noise, mental or physical health problems, and diet. And even if noise is your No. 1 culprit and you buy the Sleepbuds, take notes on your sleep quality for a few weeks. Many people simply can’t sleep comfortably with objects inside their ears, so if these don’t work out for you, take advantage of the 30-day return policy.
For me, I’m lucky if I sleep longer than six hours a night without interruptions. With the Sleepbuds, I continued getting an average of about five and a half hours of sleep a night.
I kept a sleep diary and found that I often woke at around 3 or 4 a.m. The common culprits: anxiety about future events, queasiness from something I ate or my cat’s jumping on my chest. So thanks, Sleepbuds, but tech probably isn’t my solution.