If you have trouble sleeping, you may have turned to high-tech gadgets such as white noise generators, wearable sleep trackers or mattress pad sensors to help catch some z’s. Sometimes, though, going old-school is the best. Sleep masks have been around for generations, and they’re supported by science. Take a look at why a sleep mask may be your answer to getting a good night’s sleep.
The Relationship Between Light and Sleep
The body’s circadian rhythms, which regulate the sleep-wake cycle, can be disturbed when you experience too much light at the wrong time of the cycle. It’s one thing to deal with jet lag when travel disrupts your circadian rhythms, but it’s another thing entirely to deal with disrupted sleep night after night.
Exposure to artificial light after the sun has gone down can mess up those circadian rhythms. That artificial light comes in many forms as you try to sleep — the beam of streetlights sneaking around the edge of your curtains, the lights on in another room of the house and the tiny amount of light emanating from your digital alarm clock. Far worse than any of these for sleep: the ever-present blue light emitted by cellphones and other electronic devices.
Even the smallest amounts of light during nighttime hours can result in the suppression of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. If melatonin isn’t produced on schedule, the brain doesn’t know it’s time to get sleepy, and insomnia can result.
Eye masks provide a solution to this problem of intrusive light. Studies show that eye masks (often deployed along with earplugs to block out intrusive sound) result in longer periods of restful REM sleep and elevation of melatonin levels. People who use eye masks at night experience better sleep even when exposed to simulated light.
The Benefits of Wearing Eye Masks When Sleeping
Eye masks are proven to help sleep by encouraging the production of melatonin, and they have other real benefits. Take a look at some of the pluses of wearing an eye mask to sleep:
- Eye masks are safe and nonaddictive. Many people turn to sleeping pills, both prescription and over-the-counter, to get some sleep. However, most pharmaceutical sleep inducers are either habit-forming or have significant side effects associated with them. The same is true for alcohol used as a sleeping aid — with the additional negative that alcohol actually disrupts the normal sleep cycle. In contrast, sleep masks are nonchemical, not risky and can be as effective as pharmaceutical approaches to lack of sleep.
- Eye masks protect the skin around your eyes. Those odd wrinkles that form around your eyes from the scrunched-up pillowcase you slept on can actually develop into real wrinkles over time. The pressure of sleeping on your side can lead you to develop crow’s feet. If you wear a sleep mask, that delicate skin is protected from the collagen breakdown that occurs over time during sleep.
- Eye masks are inexpensive. If you want to create a completely dark environment for sleeping every night, sleep masks aren’t your only option. You can also remove all light sources from your room (including your phone charger), and you can drape your windows with heavy blackout curtains that keep out all outside light. Those curtains, though, can be expensive, especially when compared to the minor cost of a sleep mask.
Types of Eye Masks
Sleep masks come in varying sizes, shapes and materials. That makes it easy for you to find a covering that feels comfortable all night long. Choose one of these types of masks to help you get the sleep you need and deserve.
Treat the skin around your eyes with a sleep mask made of silk. The soft, smooth fibers help lessen friction around the eye, allowing you to minimize the effects of aging — and they feel wonderful, too. Silk masks are also a great choice for hot sleepers since they stay cool and breathable.
Masks that are contoured to fit around your eye area avoid adding any pressure to the bridge of your nose or pressing down on your eyelashes. The contoured design also does a great job of keeping light from sneaking around the edges.
These eye masks are typically paired with neck pillows for air travel. They may come in various textures and fabrics, all aimed at helping you arrive at your destination well-rested.
Quilted Cotton Masks
Quilting cotton makes the sleep mask extra-soft without losing any of the fabric’s notable breathability. This type of mask is also machine-washable for easy, regular care, and it feels like you’re wearing a pillow on your eyes.
Side sleepers often find that very large masks provide the complete blacking out of light they require because they don’t slide away as they come into contact with the pillow. Look for masks with adjustable straps and soft material that feels great against the skin.
The calming effects of a weighted blanket are also available on a smaller scale with weighted eye masks. These masks, which are often made of warm fleece material, are filled with about half a pound of beads that apply a perfect level of pressure to your face to help you relax and drift off to sleep quickly.