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Sleep Mask

  1. What Is a Sleep Mask?
  2. Why Use a Sleep Mask?
  3. How Do Sleep Masks Work?
  4. Types of Sleep Masks
  5. Sleeping Soundly: Choosing the Right Eye Mask
  6. Where Can I Buy a Sleep Mask?
  7. Earplugs and Other Ways to Improve Your Sleep

What Is a Sleep Mask?

Also called eye masks, sleep masks block out unwanted light to help you fall – and stay – asleep. An adaptation of a blindfold, sleep masks come in an array of shapes, sizes, materials and designs, with different types shutting out different amounts of light. Some are made for complete blackout, while others function as novelty items – like fun masks that feature printed eyes or eyelashes.

Sleep masks are popular among men and women of all ages, with many people swearing by them for a good night’s rest. Here’s the lowdown on these sleep aids and why you might want to consider joining the eye mask club.

Why Use a Sleep Mask?

There are a lot of situations in which a sleep mask may come in handy. One example is long-haul flights, where the stiff seats, cabin lighting and change of time zones can make sleep a real challenge. Sleep masks help by creating the darkness your body needs to produce melatonin – the hormone we rely on to fall asleep naturally.[1] This is why many airlines provide eye masks in their overnight packs for passengers.

Sleep masks may also help summon the Sandman for nightshift workers whose awkward hours make it difficult to snooze. Some people use sleep masks to help them doze off when away from home – in hospital or at a hotel, for example. And others use them for power naps at the office, or even just to relax or meditate.[1]

But sleep masks are also popular for regular home use, as they may help people to fall asleep more easily, and sleep more restfully in their own beds.[2]

Lack of sleep has become a major public health problem,[3] with an estimated 40 percent of Americans getting less Zs than they need,[4] and the rest of the world struggling with sleep deprivation too.[5] Insufficient sleep can wreak havoc on our health – it has been linked to impaired cognitive function, increased stress levels and a number of serious conditions like diabetes, heart attack and obesity.[6] It also impacts society, increasing the risk of car accidents and occupational mistakes.[4]

Finding ways to catch more Zs is important for all of us, and the humble sleep mask may be one small – but key – part of getting more rest.

How Do Sleep Masks Work?

A sleep mask eliminates visual distractions and reduces the amount of light that enters your eyes, helping your body to produce the sleep hormone melatonin. Light – particularly the blue variety emitted by electronics like televisions, cell phones and computers – suppresses melatonin production, which can lead to difficulty sleeping. In addition to helping you get to sleep, it’s thought that sleep masks may also allow for sleep which is less disrupted and of a higher quality.[4]

Types of Sleep Masks

Sleep masks come in a variety of materials, such as cotton, satin and silk. Some masks are made of memory foam that contours to the shape of your face for optimal fit and comfort. The straps that go around the back of your head may be adjustable or fixed, singular or double.

Some masks feature padding and built-in eye “cavities” – hollows that ensure the mask doesn’t weigh too heavily on your eyelids. These may be helpful during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, when we do a lot of dreaming and our eyes do a lot of moving.[7] Masks may also include a piece of fabric around the nose area to prevent light slipping through.[4][8]

Different sleep masks block out different amounts of light. Some are designed to shut out 100 percent of light, while others will only keep out less.[1] The “strength” of the mask you need depends on how light your environment is and how sensitive you are to it.

There is a huge range of sleep masks on the market, ranging from novelty designs that may not be prized for their functionality to gel-masks for dry and tired eyes, mid-range products and high-tech offerings like the Manta Sleep Mask and Sana Sleep smart goggles.

The Manta touts itself as the world’s first modular sleep mask with a feature called “freefit”, molding itself to the wearer’s face for 100% blackout.[9] Sana Health’s padded sleep mask, which is expected to go on sale in 2018, uses audio-visual stimulation to induce a state of deep relaxation.[10]

Sleeping Soundly: Choosing the Right Eye Mask

Not all sleep masks are equal, and not all sleep masks are suitable for everyone. Choosing the right mask for your needs can be challenging, as there is such a massive variety of products on the market. To make the decision easier, it helps to keep these four points in mind:[1][8][11]

Ability to block out light: If you are looking for a basic mask that will help with relaxation or drifting off in a room that’s already fairly dark, you can probably get away with something that blocks out most, but not all, of the light (allowing a little in around the edges). If you need pitch darkness to combat bright lights, look for a sleep mask that promises 100 percent shut-out.

In addition, it is important to check that the sleep mask can be washed. Since it will come into direct contact with your face, it will need to be put into the laundry from time to time to avoid clogging your pores and causing breakouts. Most good sleep masks are machine or hand-washable.

Where Can I Buy a Sleep Mask?

Sleep masks are fairly ubiquitous – you can buy them online (for example from Amazon or CVS) or in-store at most major pharmacies and general retailers. For example, you can find sleep masks at Target, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, as well as many other big names internationally. For specialized sleep masks, you may need to order from start-ups and health technology companies like those mentioned earlier.

Earplugs and Other Ways to Improve Your Sleep

Still struggling to doze off? Consider adding earplugs to block out distracting noises, using aromatherapy to help you relax, fitting blackout curtains in your bedroom, investing in a new pillow or taking other steps to improve your sleep hygiene. If none of this helps, it’s advisable to consult a medical practitioner to rule out any health conditions that may be impacting your sleep.

  1. Dream Essentials. “How to Choose the Best Sleep Mask.” Accessed September 26, 2017.  2 3 4

  2. Dream Essentials. “What are Eye Masks?” Accessed September 26, 2017. 

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Problem.” September 3, 2015. Accessed September 26, 2017. 

  4. Glamour. “Can a Sleep Mask Cure Insomnia? Here’s Why It Seems to Work.” February 27, 2015. Accessed September 26, 2017.  2 3 4

  5. MedSleep. “Sleep Deprivation – A Global Epidemic.” April 25, 2017. Accessed September 28, 2017. 

  6. Huffington Post. “Poor Sleep Hygiene Is Killing You And Your Career.” April 26, 2017. Accessed September 26, 2017. 

  7. Sleep Junkie. “Why Do Your Eyes Move During REM Sleep?” August 14, 2015. Accessed September 28, 2017. 

  8. Sleep.org. “How to Choose the Best Sleep Mask.” Accessed September 26, 2017.  2

  9. Kickstarter. “Manta Sleep Mask - World’s 1st Modular Eye Mask for Sleeping.” Accessed September 26, 2017. 

  10. TechCrunch. “Sana Health aims to stop insomnia with smart goggles.” May 26, 2017. Accessed September 26, 2017. 

  11. SleepSugar. “Lights out! The Best Sleep Masks For Pitch-Black Sleeping.” October 21, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.