Beginner’s Guide

The Ultimate Guide to Wearing Headphones

Man wearing white Sonos Ace headphones

There’s a lot to love about headphones. For starters, nothing is better at blocking out the bustle of a crowded office or subway car. But the right pair of headphones can do much more than that, inviting you into an immersive listening experience where the music seems to be coming from all around you.

Is it possible to love your headphones too much? We’re not here to answer that question, but we do want to shed some light on some more common questions about headphone safety. So, if you’ve ever wondered how loud is “too loud” or if you should limit your daily listening time, you’ve come to the right place.

Are Bluetooth headphones safe?

Bluetooth headphones are widely considered to be safe for general use, and no study to date has linked Bluetooth technology to health risks.

Let’s elaborate on that a bit.

Wireless Bluetooth devices use a type of electromagnetic radiation (EMF) known as radiofrequency radiation (RF). This is the same kind emitted by smartphones, televisions, laptop computers, and many other common consumer electronic devices.

There are two types of RF radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing. Bluetooth radiation is of the non-ionizing variety. The ionizing type — the kind found in X-rays, for example — can pose some health risks with repeated or prolonged exposure. But non-ionizing radiation is generally thought to be harmless to humans.

How long should you wear headphones at a time?

Listening to loud sounds for an extended period of time can damage your hearing. But how loud is too loud? The answer depends on several factors, including not only the loudness of the sound itself, but also the length and frequency of the exposure.

Let’s apply this to headphones, which typically have an output ranging from 60 decibels (dB) to about 110 dB. Note that the volume bar on your phone or audio device does not directly translate to decibels, but it’s usually safe to assume that 50–60% of the volume meter puts you in the 80–85 dB range.

According to guidelines from the World Health Organization, you can safely listen to sounds at 100 dB for only 15 minutes a day. Note that we said sounds — not just music. So if your commute involves waiting for a screeching subway train (about 100 dB), you should shave a few minutes off your day’s headphone use, especially if you tend to listen at high volumes.

You can expand your listening time by taking a few practical steps, such as giving yourself short listening breaks and using earplugs to reduce the volume of loud environments such as concerts and sporting events.

How loud should headphones be?

We mentioned above that this question depends not just on loudness, but also on the duration and frequency of exposure. With that in mind, some volumes can be safely listened to for up to an hour or more, while others can cause hearing loss within a matter of minutes.

The CDC notes that exposure to sounds of 80–85 dBs (about equal to the 50–60% mark on your device’s volume meter) can cause damage to hearing after two hours of exposure. The duration of safe-listening time goes down from there, with sounds of 95 dBs leading to possible hearing damage after 50 minutes, and sounds of 100 dBs (close to max volume) causing possible hearing loss after only 15 minutes.

Most consumer headphones max out at volumes that are quite a bit higher than the 100 dB threshold, so you need to take some care and avoid the temptation to crank it up. If there’s one song you really need to hear in all its glory, we get it — but try to offset this with listening at lower levels, or for shorter durations.

Black Sonos Ace over a white background
A woman using Sonos Ace with a tablet

How should headphones fit?

When it comes to loudness, the headphones you choose matter, too.

A good, snug fit goes a long way in blocking out excess noise, so you can clearly hear music at lower volumes. This is especially true if you typically listen to headphones in a noisy or crowded environment, such as on your commute to work. “Snug” shouldn’t mean “uncomfortable,” though. That’s why Sonos Ace headphones come with memory foam ear cushions and an extendable headband.

Headphones with Active Noise Cancellation, like Sonos Ace, also block out external sounds and make it easier to listen at lower volumes without feeling like you’re missing something.

Can headphones cause a dent in your head?

Cautionary tales of “headphone dent” have spread throughout the online-gaming community. This term describes an arch-shaped divot imprinted into the skull after wearing headphones for hours, days, or even weeks at a time. Here’s the good news: It is highly unlikely that wearing headphones will cause a dent in your head.

If this happens to you, what you’re probably experiencing is simply a dent in your hair or skin caused by a prolonged period of wear. This can happen with any head accessory, and reports of similar indentations are associated with hats, headbands, and even sunglasses. In any case, it should clear up within a few minutes or hours. If you’re experiencing pain, it’s probably a sign that you should adjust the fit of your headphones or try adding some extra padding by wearing a hat or a beanie under them.

Can headphones cause hair loss?

This is probably related to the age-old myth that wearing a hat can cause hair loss, and there is no concrete evidence to back it up.

Is it illegal to drive with headphones?

The legality of driving while wearing headphones varies from state to state, and from country to country. And in many places, it’s not as simple as “yes” or “no.” Some U.S. states, for example, ban over-ear headphones but allow using a single earbud. Other states and countries may also have a law against driving with headphones that provides exceptions for those with hearing impairments.

Before getting behind the driver’s seat with headphones, check with your local authorities. The EU maintains an official website where you can review the road rules in all EU countries. In the US and in other jurisdictions, you’ll need to contact local authorities to verify the current road rules.

But is driving with headphones a good idea — even if it’s not explicitly illegal? Keep in mind that listening to loud music while driving can impair both your hearing and your attention on the road, and make you more likely to miss important signals. In almost every case, it’s better just to not.

Can you sleep with headphones on?

Listening to music at night can help to block out the constant ringing noise associated with tinnitus, while recorded meditations or ambient noise can also get the mind calm and sleep-ready.

It is generally safe to sleep with headphones on, though a few caveats apply:

  • Lower the volume: If you fall asleep with headphones in, there’s a good chance you’ll have music pumping into your ears for eight hours or more. That’s a fast track to hearing damage if you’re listening at volumes greater than 80–85 dB. As a general rule, set your headphones at the lowest possible volume before drifting off to sleep. And if you’re listening on Spotify, take advantage of the built-in sleep timer that automatically turns off your music after you’ve fallen asleep. Other streaming services may offer similar features.
  • Don’t use noise-canceling features at night: Even though you’re sleeping, you want to be in a position where you’ll wake up in case of an emergency. If your noise-canceling headphones may lead you to miss an alarm, a ringing phone, or any other noises that may require your attention, be sure to switch the noise-canceling feature off before bedtime.
  • Avoid in-ear headphones if possible: Leaving in your in-ear headphones for extended periods of time can be uncomfortable. It can also trap moisture in your ear canal, creating an enclosed environment that’s ripe for infection. Better to go with over-ear headphones or even an external speaker, if possible.

Enjoy all-day comfort with Sonos Ace

If you follow the simple guidelines outlined in this post and keep the volume at a moderate level that won’t harm your inner ears, there’s nothing stopping you from wearing headphones all day. And there’s no better headphone for immersive, all-day listening than Sonos Ace.

With a custom-designed driver tuned by music-industry leaders, Sonos Ace surrounds you with hyper-realistic, three-dimensional audio wherever you go. And with up to 30 hours of battery life with Active Noise Cancellation enabled, you can sink into your own portable listening universe and stay there for as long as you please.

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