Technology plays a role in keeping us awake and wired, but also in attempting to help us fall asleep and rest. The role companies want gadgets and gear to play in assisting people sleep is a curious one. Innovations around temperature and light are interesting, but one of the most popular seems to be around using audio.
The innovations in audio for sleep extend from apps and audio content to speakers and earbuds. Both Endel’s AI soundscapes or Bose Sleepbuds are great examples. And, judging by my inbox, I can tell that companies are increasingly competing to figure out the best way to use audio as a sleep aid.
A new entry into the space of nighttime audio is the Kokoon Nightbuds. The product is a pair of Bluetooth earbuds specifically designed for use while sleeping. The part that goes in your ear is extremely thin and lightweight. It accomplishes this by moving electronic components to a module on the back of your head via minimal wires.
In the name of better sleep, I’m willing to try most things at least once, so I gave the Nightbuds a chance. I’ll admit that when I first saw them, I was incredibly skeptical. They do not look comfortable from the pictures on Kokoon’s website. In the end, the Kokoon Nightbuds are both better and worse than they appear.
Long battery life
Can be used for any type of audio or phone calls
Mostly uncomfortable while sleeping
Unimpressive companion app
Lackluster audio quality
Why Use Earbuds for Sleep?
There’s no one reason to consider wearing earbuds during sleep, but probably the biggest is that a spouse or partner sleeping in the same room doesn’t want to hear what you’re listening to at night. That might be a guided relaxation audio or the latest Taylor Swift album. Either way, you’re probably trying to be considerate by using earbuds. That’s admirable.
I typically use a wireless speaker when I play audio at night. I’m fortunate that my wife doesn’t mind. I’m not someone who needs to use earbuds while sleeping, but I was curious if Nightbuds would prove comfortable enough that I could prefer using them over a speaker. If they did, maybe I would start using them to sleep on an airplane or on nights that I wanted a more engulfing audio experience to lull me to sleep.
The features included on the Kokoon Nightbuds are all in service to using them in bed. For example, the reason for the less than ideal module residing behind the head is so that the parts that go in your ears can be as thin and minimal as possible.
Kokoon says the in-ear part of Nightbuds is only 5.4 millimeters thick so they can work well for people sleeping on their side. There’s an infrared light sensor on the right bud that is used to measure heart rate and heart rate variability. The MyKokoon app will show sleep analytics around efficiency, duration and quality.
Nightbuds have physical volume buttons along with a microphone so they can be used to make phone calls—during the day. They also have a stated 10-hour battery life. I found the battery to be better than that, but at minimum, they should have no problem lasting as long as you want to sleep each night.
A highly touted feature is the ability for the Nightbuds to detect when you fall asleep and automatically fade out sound or fade to white noise. In practice, I didn’t notice the auto fade—which is kind of the point. It also didn’t specifically help me to remain asleep. Caregivers of all kinds may want to stay aware of issues throughout the night. They could probably still use Nightbuds, but I would avoid activating the fade to white noise.
Sleeping With Earbuds on the First Night
Slipping the earbuds in each ear the first time was easy enough. There is a range of silicone ear tips to fit different ear sizes. I selected one of the smaller ones so the fit would be as unobtrusive as possible. There’s a module that connects each side with a thin wire. It’s unfortunate. But, it’s not even its presence that I found to be annoying—it’s the wire coming out of my ear that was irritating at night. The module is where the power and volume buttons live and presumably house much of the battery and wireless electronics.
Going into this review, I wasn’t expecting much, since even just resting on my bed with AirPods in my ears hasn’t really worked for me at all. Those earbuds are too uncomfortable to use on top of a pillow. So I was pleasantly surprised, the first time I laid my head down with the Nightbuds in my ears, that they felt mostly invisible. Lying on my side, my ear touched the pillow first, instead of a bulbous earbud.
I rolled onto my back, and I could feel the module piece of the Nightbuds, but not as much as I had expected. Overall, my first experience with the earbuds was much better than I anticipated. It was certainly much better than any pictures made them look.
My experience wearing Nightbuds to bed the first night was much different than simply trying them on for a few minutes. After four hours, and waking up several times, I had to take them off. Each of my ears ached slightly from laying on either side. The wire behind my head caught on my pillow enough to be a distraction as I tossed and turned.
My second night with the Nightbuds was not much better. While I found them ever so slightly more comfortable to wear to bed, I still needed to take them off halfway through the night. Frankly, it’s an exhausting product to try and test.
The Nightbuds do seem pretty comfortable if you can side sleep all night. And, while I like sleeping on my side in theory, I toss and turn too much to have an apparatus around my head.
I’m not sour on the idea of sleeping earbuds, but after several more attempts, these are not the right ones for me. I’m sure they could be the right ones for a particular person, but it’s probably someone who doesn’t move much throughout the night. In general, if you can use a speaker to listen to audio at night, I would recommend that.
To get the best audio quality from the Nightbuds, you’ll need to use rubber ear tips that create a seal in your ears. Doing so may put more pressure on your ears and ultimately be less comfortable while sleeping. I would recommend forgetting about trying to get the best fidelity and stick with whichever ear tips are the most comfortable.
Even with a seal, the bass is severely lacking compared to other similarly priced earbuds. The overall sound is balanced, but it feels narrow in range. The earbuds don’t sound hollow or low quality, but the bass doesn’t resonate much and the treble doesn’t sparkle. This might come off like I’m down on how the Nightbuds sound, but I think they’re fine—for sleeping.
The in-ear part is incredibly thin and lightweight, so it seems like a matter of physics that these earbuds can’t push as much air as larger earbuds can. At night, listening to relaxing sounds or even people speaking, I never considered the sound to be an issue.
Kokoon Nightbuds have two possible uses. The first is audio listening to help people get to sleep and stay asleep. The other is utilizing them to analyze sleep. It’s a solid idea, but the execution of data being shown within the app is mostly a mess.
The very first issue is that it’s not clear when, or if, the earbuds will track data. Will it also track my sleep if I take a long afternoon nap with the earbuds in? The instructions indicate leaving the app running to track data, but it’s not clear what specifically is meant by that. For example, does that include not turning off the screen on an iPhone so the app isn’t paused in the background? The questions around whether it’s recording data are exacerbated by results showing up at different intervals. When I did see some results displayed in the app, they were hard to interpret. I didn’t find the visualizations to be clear.
Beyond data tracking, the app also provides audio content. The content is sparse, but it’s certainly enough to get started and potentially use on repeat if you like it. There are musical soundscapes, guided meditations, coaching and stories. One particular piece of audio I found interesting was the three shipping forecasts. It contained someone reading out weather and sea conditions for maritime travel. At first, it seemed like a joke. But, after a few minutes, it seemed very much like content for people who turn on the Weather Channel to fall asleep.
The nice thing is that you can use the Nightbuds to listen to any audio on your phone, whether that’s streaming music, an audiobook or a podcast. If you want multiple audio layers, the MyKokoon app will play ocean wave sounds on top of your other selected audio.
Should You Buy Kokoon Nightbuds?
The Kokoon Nightbuds will be most useful for people who sleep on their side. But, I generally wouldn’t recommend these for someone simply curious about sleeping with personal audio. Despite the technical feat that went into making these in-ear buds slim and light, I think the connecting wires and back module are too much of a compromise to recommend to just anyone blanketly.
There is one exception, however. If you absolutely need earbuds for sleeping, for whatever reason, then these are certainly worth considering. It’s a faint distinction, but the Nightbuds’ ability to play any type of audio and having a long battery life might fit your circumstances.