Sleep masks may seem like the freebie that comes with that cute pajama set you bought your mother for Christmas or a polite way to make it clear you don’t want to make small talk with the stranger next to you on a plane, but in reality, sleep masks can make a difference in the quality of your sleep.
Research shows that darker rooms equate to better sleep, but it’s difficult to achieve, especially when we live in a world of ever increasing “light.” We have lighted alarm clocks, brighter street lights. Our phones, which are usually charging near our beds, emit light. It’s becoming nearly impossible to achieve complete darkness without spending a significant amount of money on blackout blinds or curtains. So, could a sleep mask be the solution for a full night’s rest?
Writing for sleepopolis.com, Jillian Ashley Blair wrote, “The primary reason that … scientists say you need darkness for good sleep is actually evolutionary. Human – and our pre-human ancestors – are actually diurnal, meaning we’re awake during the day and sleep at night. For thousands of years before electric lights allowed us to keep working or socializing late into the evening, human naturally slept while it was dark and where awake during the day. Our brains are hard-wired into associating darkness with sleep, and they produce more melatonin (the hormone that controls our sleep and wake cycles) when they sense an absence of light.”
Sleep mask use has also been shown to increase REM sleep and has resulted in longer durations of the deep sleep cycle.
While many masks simply work to block out light, others will increase your likelihood of falling asleep by employing relaxation techniques. Some can be heated or cooled, depending on what sensation relaxes you. Others are filled with ergoBeads or other substances that create a gentle massaging effect around your eyes. For some people, just the gentle pressure on their eyes is enough to create increased relaxation.
Sleep masks have also been shown to help alleviate headache or migraine symptoms (particularly those that can be temperature controlled, and they may help combat eye strain from a long work day in front of a computer monitor. They can also be useful when traveling – making it easier for you to fall asleep in an unfamiliar room or even a different time zone.
When choosing a sleep mask, however, you do want to make sure it’s not too tight, and the overall fit and comfort are important, too. Too much pressure on your eyes is uncomfortable (and not very relaxing). Moreover, a tight mask may leave marks on your face upon waking, which is not an idea way to enter the office every day. However, if the mask is too loose, it will slip off during the usual motion of sleep, rendering it ineffective. Many masks have adjustable straps, so make sure the mask you’re considering is literally a good fit before purchasing.
Also, as a final tip, be sure to set your alarm. Because the mask will block out natural light, your body’s response to light may not kick in. Setting an alarm clock will prevent oversleeping.
Thinking about trying a sleep mask and looking for recommendations? Ethan Green over at nosleeplessnights.com recently posted a rundown of 8 of his favorites!