As a health writer with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), sometimes I really need to get down to business and focus. (Note: ADHD can make it difficult to focus, get organized, and complete tasks.) But with distractions in every corner of my apartment, I set out on a personal mission to find the best noise-canceling headphones in existence to help me concentrate. Needless to say, there are a lot of them on the market, and many are quite the pretty penny. So in my search, I did a combination of testing headphones in-store, buying a pair when my interest was piqued, and testing samples that were sent to me. Through all of that, there was one brand that consistently impressed me: The Sony WH XM005 Wireless Industry Leading Noise Canceling Headphones ($348).
- Serenity Serseción, PhD, licensed psychologist at LevelUpPsych
Full disclosure: These are a little on the pricey side, and I tested a pair that the brand sent me—and then bought a pair for my mom. That's how I know I really thought they were a quality product. Now, let's get into why I think the headphones are great for focusing if you have ADHD (and even if you don't).
These Sony WH-1000XM5 Noise-Canceling Headphones have a number of great features, but there are a few that stood out to me the most, and actually helped me focus.
Here's why I think these noise-canceling headphones are great for people with ADHD
They're sleek and sturdy, and come only with what you need
First of all, I love the design. The matte finish gives it a seamless look, rather than making me feel like I have construction-grade noise-canceling headphones on. They come with a case and all the cords you might need, but nothing extraneous. I find that any added items or bells and whistles are just extra noise (read: distractions) for me. So a very simple, straightforward design that does what it's supposed to do is a win, in my book. I also love that you can tap the surfaces of each side to pause, play, or rewind your audio—which makes listening back to interviews to get exact quotes pretty easy (sigh, writer problems).
They seem really durable
These headphones fold up easily, so you can put them in your pocket or backpack without giving them a second thought. Now, I'm not condoning chucking these headphones off the roof of your apartment, but I will say they seem pretty darn durable. I've thrown them in the bottom of so many bags, the back of my car, and even dropped them countless times without any scratches or noticeable damages.
They hold a charge and connect to Bluetooth seamlessly
One thing I really can't stand about electronics is having to jump through a ton of hoops. I don't like it when the Bluetooth connectivity is too complex or finicky. These headphones are really easy to figure out. There's a connectivity mode button and a noise-canceling button. The headphones actually talk to you and tell you what mode they're in.
While I've tried countless other pairs of headphones that offer you different pings and nonverbal chimes to alert you to the settings they're in, it can get really confusing. (Unfortunately, I do not speak Bluetooth.) I also don't want to be googling what each chime means every single time I want to connect to a new device. These headphones are straightforward, and they remember your previous devices, too.
The noise-canceling is amazing and easy to turn on and off
This is where these headphones blow the competition out of the water. No matter how loud your environment is, the second you press the noise-canceling button, you'll be transported to a muffled, peaceful zone. This is perfect for busy subways, hanging at a coffee shop, or sitting at my desk trying to focus.
Something that's especially cool about these headphones? They can also detect noise and increase their noise-canceling power. I find that to be an excellent feature when I am on the go, and the volume around me is changing. With other headphones, I sometimes worry that the noise cancellation is a little bit too strong, and will trigger a headache. Not so when you're headphones are literally doing all the lifting when it comes to intuiting how much noise-canceling juice you need at every moment. If you'd rather be in the driver's seat for that kind of thing, there is also an optional mode that puts you in charge.
Noise cancellation is helpful for some people with ADHD
"Noise-canceling headphones can be great for people with ADHD to help them not be distracted by the noise in their environment. Especially with open offices being more popular and many workers only having a cubicle, the amount of noise at work can be overwhelming," says Serenity Sersecíon, PhD, a licensed psychologist based in Sunnyvale, CA. "Having access to noise-canceling headphones helps people focus by having less external sensory stimulation."
That way, you only have to focus on one thing, rather than trying to filter out the noise and focus at the same time, they explain. Because research has shown that noise-canceling can be helpful for people with ADHD, Dr. Sersecíon says it's getting easier to have noise-canceling headphones accepted as accommodations for work and school.
That said, you'll want to do your own research to find the best pair for you. Fit matters, as well as your own personal preference for noise-cancellation features. "It may be best not to surprise someone with this as a gift, but instead ask what they prefer. Also, giving different options for noise cancellation can help," says Dr. Sersecíon. Noise-canceling headphones and earbuds, as well as white noise machines, are all good options for increased focus.
- Kulawiak, Pawel R. “Academic Benefits of Wearing Noise-cancelling Headphones during Class for Typically Developing Students and Students with Special Needs: A Scoping Review.” Cogent Education, vol. 8, no. 1, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186X.2021.1957530.
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