My sleep is absolute garbage. This is an ongoing struggle of mine, and of many adults, and has been for the last several years of my life. Anxiety, depression, a questionable childhood, a lack of routine exercise, a lack of a balanced and healthy diet…an unfathomable things are often blamed (credited) for poor sleep, and when you’re the one with the problem, there are oftentimes just too many things to contemplate, and to test, to try and get through it.
I don’t doubt that a healthier lifestyle–diet and exercise–would make a big difference on my sleep habits. But, I’m also lazy; I’m plagued by resolution to poor sleep in the same way I’m plagued by resolution to being overweight: I, like so many others, just want a magic bullet to take care of it all.
But in reality, magic bullets don’t exist…hence, sleep aids in the form of pills are sought out, addictions are created…it’s a generally unhealthy solution. And, as I get older, I find myself not so much in favor of these less-than-natural fixes.
Last summer when Bose announced their new product–the Noise Masking Sleepbuds–my love for Bose products and desire for a decent night of sleep piqued my interest…but at the price of $249, it was a bit of a luxury that I wasn’t willing to invest in.
Over a year later, the Sleepbuds have seen no second generation (yet), and the price seems to be pretty static. However, just before Labor Day this year I found them priced at Best Buy for $199, and I had just discovered an old gift card and some extra certificates that could get the out-of-pocket investment just under $150…and I decided it was time to pull the trigger.
The first thing I noticed about the Sleepbuds packaging was how delightfully Bose it was presented. It had been some time since I unboxed a new Bose product, so I was eager to get started. The outer sleeve gives way to a completely matte black box, and upon opening the box you are greeted with the silver hockey-puck-like case the Buds are stored in. Below that, a panel lifts to expose the instructions, ear tips and charging components. And, as this is a product from mid-2018, no one should be surprised to find a micro-USB charge connection.
The puck itself feels almost metallic; it’s a very lightweight material with a lid that slides back and reveals the buds inside. 5 LED lights along the center of the inside rim indicate level of charge, and longer LED lights by each bud indicate connection to the case. The buds are held in place by magnets. The bottom of the puck has a rubberized pad which prevents the unit from being easily slid on a table or nightstand. It is wonderfully simple, and elegant, and pleasing.
The buds themselves have two components: the electronic component, approximately the size of a small kidney bean, and the ear tip which holds it. The tips are easily interchangeable.
Without downloading the Bose Sleep app, the puck comes a very expensive paperweight. Setup is simple; the app walks you through changing the ear tips, proper fit, and how to charge the buds…it takes no more than a minute, and it doesn’t require the creation of any account online. The app is otherwise a simple interface–showing the percentage of the charge the buds currently have, what sound is playing, and any set alarms on its home screen.
The pre-installed library of sounds have two categories: relaxation and noise-masking; out of the box, all but one of the sounds are noise-masking sounds, intended to be used for sleeping. When turned on, the volume can be increased or decreased via the app (not your phone’s volume control), but it doesn’t get very loud at its highest volume–although I’m sure most would not sleep comfortably with them up all the way; during my testing, I left the volume around 30% on most nights.
The sounds are exactly what you’d expect from any electronics bin “white noise” machine you can buy from most big box retailers and very easily online: the hum of an airplane, the rush of a waterfall, the gentle sound of a stream, rustling leaves, waves washing ashore, generic white noise, and a campfire at night with crickets in the background. Ironically, my go-to sound was the last of those, even though (even as I write this review) the sound of crickets in the woods surrounding my house is really quite loud coming in through an open window. There is also one pre-installed relaxation sound “Tranquility” that plays a calming tonal progression that if I were into meditating, I might actually quite enjoy.
From a features perspective, I love the idea of the Sleepbuds…a small, truly wireless set of earbuds that don’t fall out of your ears and aren’t uncomfortable to wear all night; they are light and accommodating regardless of whether or not you sleep on your side. Previously, I would wear a pear of Apple Earpods nearly every night and listen to music on a timer while falling asleep…so having something in my ears at night is not an obstacle for me. That said, because these fit so well, sometimes removing them can be quite tricky, and at times when trying to do it quickly I found myself panicking a bit to get them out. Regardless, they are very comfortable. They aren’t noise-canceling, mind you, but because they utilize a very familiar eartip design to other Bose products, they do a phenomenal job at noise isolation without playing any sounds.
The library of sounds is small, and doesn’t seem to be developing (there are currently 9 masking sounds and 11 relaxation sounds available via the app, although you’ll have to download 10 of those 11 relaxation tones to the buds after purchase. And no, you can’t listen to your own audio files on these; Bose says that transferring even from among the limited library of sounds to your buds can take up to several hours per sound, although I was able to download a relaxation sound called “Boardwalk” in about 40 minutes. As a bonus, transferring can be done during the night while they are in use, and can also be paused and picked up at a later time.
You can also utilize the alarm feature to have the buds wake you in the morning. There are 7 alarm sounds available, and snooze, fade in, and alarm scheduling are all available options. Although you can set a seemingly high number of alarms, only the next occurring alarm is saved to the buds themselves. Side note, I found snoozing to be a bit of a joke, and the only way to disable the alarm is to put the buds back in their case, which is VERY difficult to do in the dark if you’ve just woken up–and in that sense, it serves as a great alarm clock.
Bottom line though–do they work? Well, they seem to, although even I can admit they are a very unique and niche product…it’s no wonder why we haven’t seen a second generation or an expanding library of sounds. The buds easily get through a night of use, and with the charge case I found myself recharging these every 2-3 days. But my sleep did get substantially better, noticeably so–such that I found that I was sleeping longer and more consistently throughout the night, and waking up feeling more refreshed than usual.
I don’t think they’re going to be a silver bullet for everyone. I always listen to something when I sleep–a fan, the outdoors, and most often music (at least for a part of the night)–and I’ve found the sleepbuds keep a consistent stream of [effectively] nothingness and blocking out other anomalous sounds that otherwise jostle me awake during the night. And, at a discounted price of $199 (and even less considering the gift cards and certificates I stumbled across), I think this is a purchase I’m going to be pleased with.
That said, I would love to see some more sounds available in the library, or even a similar low-weight and high-comfort product be released by Bose that does allow custom sounds, even music, for this purpose–because the comfort level on these, provided you don’t mind things in your ears at night, to be the most successful and compelling part of the product. At the full price of $249, it’s a big commitment–but one worth trying if good sleep alludes you on a regular basis.