Sleep masks can get a bad rap: They’re easy to dismiss as accessories for the picky and pampered. But scientific evidence suggests that sleep masks, which cover your eyes while you sleep to block out ambient light, could help virtually anyone enjoy more restorative rest.
Additionally, experts recommend them to ease certain painful conditions, such as migraines and dry eyes. Sleep masks can also offer cosmetic benefits, protecting the skin around the eyes and preventing puffiness.
Do these sleep mask advantages pique your interest? By understanding the upside of covering your eyes at night, you can make an informed choice about wearing a sleep mask yourself. Moreover, by learning about the functions and features of various sleep masks, you can decide which kinds might suit your nighttime needs.
In this article, we’ll present some compelling reasons to consider wearing a sleep mask at night. We’ll take you through the research on sleep mask benefits so you can choose whether to add one to your sleep routine.
Eight Important Reasons to Use a Sleep Mask at Night
1. Sleep Masks Block Out Light to Improve Your Sleep and Health
Light is a crucial factor in the regulation of your body’s circadian rhythm, the biological schedule that dictates sleep and wakefulness. In our prehistoric past, humans’ routines corresponded roughly to the amount of light available: Sundown signaled it was time to settle in for the evening.
In our modern context, however, we’re inundated with artificial light that can disrupt our sleep schedules. Even when we darken our bedrooms to the greatest extent possible, light from the street or other rooms has a habit of creeping in. Accordingly, our bodies receive mixed messages from the outside environment and our circadian rhythm suffers.
Aside from undermining our sleep quality, light exposure has been linked to a number of other troubling health problems. One recent study linked even tiny amounts of light in the bedroom to depressive symptoms among older adults. Other research suggests that intrusive light may elevate diabetes risk.
Sleep masks solve all these problems related to intrusive light, granting the total darkness you deserve for great sleep. By sitting directly over your eyes, they can create a pitch-black environment in the brightest of bedrooms.
Even better, sleep masks tend to be more affordable than alternative measures, such as blackout shades. They’re also superior to blackout shades in one essential way: They can block out blue light from devices inside your bedroom.
Indeed, the blue light that emanates from your smartphone and other screens has been shown to disrupt sleep cycles, much like the light from outside sources. When it’s time to limit your exposure and drift off to sleep, a sleep mask can block out the phone’s light.
2. Sleep Masks Minimize Distractions
We’re all familiar with the temptation: Seconds after crawling into bed, we feel the urge to check our phones. But researchers say that bedtime scrolling can undermine sleep quality, making it harder for us to drift off and get real rest.
Whether you’re checking Twitter, watching Netflix, or sending one last email, screens increase our alertness at precisely the wrong time. Communication and entertainment are poorly suited to relaxation, which we desperately need at the end of long days. Moreover, we often spend more time on these digital activities than intended, finally crashing long after we intended to head to bed.
Sleep masks are the perfect antidote to this unhealthy compulsion. By putting yours on the minute you get into bed, you establish a boundary between yourself and your smartphone. While you can always take your sleep mask off and check your phone, this additional obstacle can be surprisingly helpful in maintaining sleep hygiene.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, sleep masks can also aid in another struggle: the urge to check your alarm clock. Staring at the clock will only increase your frustration at being up and your stress about the day ahead. A sleep mask encourages you to get back to sleep by blocking other stimuli.
3. Sleep Masks Can Protect Your Skin and Prevent Puffiness
If you’re concerned about crow’s feet and other kinds of wrinkled skin around your eyes, certain sleep masks possess anti-aging powers. When you sleep without a mask in place, contact with your pillow can stretch the skin surrounding your eyes. Some sleep masks, made with silk or other extra-gentle fibers, protect this area of your face with a gentle caress.
Sleep masks can also address a perennial morning problem: puffiness or bags around your eyes as you awake. This is particularly likely to occur when you’re short on sleep, so a mask may help you simply by ensuring that you get more rest. But some sleep mask products use innovative technologies to go the extra mile in the fight against puffy eyes.
Certain masks use specific materials, such as charcoal, to reduce puffiness and dryness in the skin around your eyes sockets. Others use cool temperatures to address swelling: You stick them in your fridge or freezer, then let the cold work wonders as you sleep.
4. Sleep Masks are Terrific for Travel
Planes, trains, and automobiles are hardly ideal sleep environments. But sleep masks can go a long way toward creating your own sleep sanctuary, even amid the chaos of coach. Plane cabins are particularly rife with “junk light,” which can seriously disrupt our sleep cycles. Block out light from windows and screens and get the sleep you need to arrive well-rested.
Some brands specialize in travel-centric sleep masks, with durable materials for use on the road or dual-purpose designs that can also serve as a pillow in a pinch. Others come with complimentary earplugs, so you can shut out the screaming child a couple of rows back.
5. Sleep Masks Can Help Treat Dry Eyes
Dry eyes are another source of pain that sleep masks can address – at least during the period of time that you spend in bed. And those with chronically dry eyes know just how uncomfortable mornings can be.
Overnight, your eyes can be exposed to dry air, dust, and other irritants. Some individuals even suffer from a condition called nocturnal lagophthalmos, which prevents them from completely closing their eyes while they’re asleep.
Sleep masks provide a protective cocoon as you sleep, allowing you to wake without irritation. Some models can even be paired with soothing eye mist for maximum effect. Allergy sufferers will be glad to hear that sleep masks designed for this purpose are usually hypoallergenic as well.
6. Sleep Masks Can Mitigate Migraines
For people in the throes of a migraine, even the smallest exposure to light can be excruciating. Light sensitivity is a common feature of chronic migraines – and particularly problematic if they strike during daylight.
Sleep masks provide the total darkness you crave when a migraine hits. When the only thing to do is crawl into bed, your mask will ensure that light doesn’t interfere with your recovery.
Moreover, some masks provide cooling or heating features specifically designed to ease migraine pain. Many sufferers swear by masks that you can freeze or refrigerate, using the cold to numb out the throbbing effects of migraines. Even if you don’t experience migraines, these features may be appealing: These cold masks work just as well for hangovers and minor headaches.
7. Sleep Masks Can Include Soothing Scents
Aromatherapy is all the rage, and many sleep masks incorporate calming fragrances conducive to sleep. Lavender is the classic scent associated with sleep, with several studies demonstrating its capacity to improve sleep quality. Cedarwood and bergamot have also been linked with better sleep in controlled trials.
If you’re worried about olfactory overload from a mask perched above your nose, choose a product that affords some flexibility. Some allow you to remove the scented pouch or swap it for another smell. Moreover, some scents can be lovely but poorly suited to slumber. Citrus smells, for example, will give you energy when you need it the least.
8. Sleep Masks Can Be Weighted for Extra Relaxation
You may have heard about the benefits of weighted blankets, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. Their pressure provides a sense of security, much like being wrapped up in a loving hug.
According to experts, weighted sleep masks can provide many of the same benefits. These masks exert gentle pressure on your face, stimulating the production of melatonin and serotonin for a pleasant sense of relaxation. These effects can be particularly helpful for those with sleep disorders or symptoms of psychological distress.
For some, the feeling of any weight on your face at night can be alarming. But for those who appreciate a dose of calming pressure, adding some heft to your sleep mask could augment its benefits.
Finding Your Mask Match
As we’ve discussed thus far, sleep masks vary widely in their materials, form, and function. If you’re interested in experimenting with sleep masks moving forward, you may need to try multiple options before settling on the right one for your rest. Thankfully, most masks are relatively affordable, so buying more than one won’t break the bank.
When shopping for a sleep mask, prioritize models that correspond to your sleeping style. If you’re a side-sleeper, for example, make sure you pick a sleep mask that won’t slide off when it rubs against your pillow.
Consider materials carefully as well: If you’re particularly sensitive to synthetic fabrics, opt for a non-irritating or hypoallergenic textile like silk. Be similarly cautious about the fragrances you choose in scented sleep masks. While a particular smell might be irresistible in small doses, it could become cloying over the course of a full night.
Once you’ve purchased a sleep mask, settle in for a period of adjustment. If you haven’t used one before, the experience of having your eyes covered could be uncomfortable at first. Give yourself at least a week with the sleep mask you choose, wearing it on a consistent basis. If it still doesn’t feel right, move on to an alternative that will resolve your specific complaints.
Once you find the right sleep mask, more restorative rest is likely to follow. We hope that darker nights will lead to brighter mornings – and all the energy you need throughout the day.