It’s almost impossible to put into words how important sleep is.
Without it, you won’t just feel grumpy and run down. It actually puts you at risk for some pretty serious health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, depression and heart disease.
That’s why it’s essential that you get your recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Sometimes, this is easier said than done. Which is why you need to use every tool at your disposal to make sure that you’re sleeping through the night.
Unfortunately, not being able to sleep also invites you to an invitation of every wives tale in the world. With people telling you all sorts of nonsense and tricks work, like avoiding cheese, counting sheep or going to bed with one wet sock on – it can be hard to know what to take seriously.
Sleep masks are one of them. Do they actually help you get a better night’s sleep or are they just a fashion accessory?
Let’s find out.
How do sleeping face masks work?
First things first, let’s talk about how sleep masks work.
Sleep masks work by blocking out the light. This may seem relatively simple, but there’s a lot more science at work here.
There are two systems that your body uses to control sleep. Your sleep drive and your circadian rhythm. Your sleep drive is a measure of how tired you feel and how much sleep your body needs. It’s similar to feeling hungry when you need to eat.
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s natural clock. It’s used to regulate your sleep cycle, telling your body when it’s time to be awake and when you should be going to sleep. There’s one magic ingredient that your body uses to control its circadian rhythm: light.
If your body senses light, it will assume that it’s daytime. If it’s daytime, it’s time to be awake, so it won’t produce melatonin – the chemical you need to fall asleep.
This includes unnatural lighting that floods every indoor home and building. Electricity is brilliant for our modern lives, but not so good for our sleep. In fact, a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed that light exposure suppressed melatonin production for 90 minutes. That’s an hour and a half where you can’t sleep because you’ve had the lights on in your house. Yikes.
Sleep masks offer a quick and easy solution here: block out the light.
By cutting out your exposure to light, your circadian rhythm will recognise that it’s time to go to sleep. In turn, this will send signals to start producing more melatonin and get you sent off to sleep ASAP.
Do sleep masks work?
Sleep masks work and are effective in helping some people get more quality sleep at night.
But don’t just take my word for it.
A study published in Critical Care found that patients in simulated ICU units managed to improve their melatonin levels, helping to improve their sleep. In addition, they also got more late-stage REM sleep, making them feel more refreshed in the morning.
Although this study result is good, you need to take them with a pinch of salt. Sleep masks can work, but it all depends on each individual person. There’s no miracle cure for sleep, so we’d avoid getting your hopes up.
They’re a sleeping aid that’s definitely worth a try though. Just make sure that you give it enough time to really see the effects. Wear them for 2 weeks and see if they’re making a difference to your sleep.
Sleep masks will be particularly effective for shift workers and places where it’s hard to block out the light, such as travelling on a plane.
However, if you struggle to get up in the morning, sleep masks might not be right for you. That’s because you won’t be able to see the light in the morning, not giving you something to start the whole wake up process.
We’ve got your back though. Try one of these 9 tips instead.
An extra five benefits of sleep masks
The best benefit of sleeping face masks is that they can help your sleep. That’s been covered earlier in the article.
But if you’re still on the fence about them, here are five extra add-on benefits that might help you change your mind.
1. It’s cheaper than having blackout blinds
If you want to block out the light, paying for a sleep mask is a lot cheaper than paying for blackout blinds or curtains.
Most sleep masks will go a great job at blocking out the light. But if you’re after total darkness, you can pay a little bit extra for ones that will block all the light – which are still cheaper than buying a set of blinds.
This also makes it easier if you live with anyone else that’s on a different shift pattern to you, helping to create your own personal blackout space for sleep.
2. They’re safer than medication
We’re not saying that medicine is unsafe. On the whole, most medications are fine to use as directed and can help treat a lot of sleeping conditions.
But, there’s no mediation that doesn’t come with side effects. There’s always going to be an adjustment period as your body gets used to the medicine and can sometimes be unpleasant to deal with all the extras they bring.
Sleeping masks aren’t like this. There are no side effects to put up with or changes to your body. If you don’t like it, just take the mask off. That’s it.
3. They help prevent dry eyes
If your home has a lot of dry air, which is common with those with an HVAC system or central heating, it can cause a lot of irritation. That’s because this dry air has a nasty habit of stirring up dust and any pet hair around your home and blowing it back on your skin.
Although it’s helpful to have a humidifier to help with dry air, it doesn’t do much to stop it from going near your eyes. Sleep masks do. They literally provide a physical barrier between the dry air and your eyes, preventing them from becoming dry and irritable.
Sleep masks are also incredibly helpful for anyone that suffers from nocturnal lagophthalmos. This is where you can’t close your eyes fully during sleep, causing irritation and soreness. Over time, this can lead to severe eye problems or permanent eye damage.
By forming an extra protective layer over the eyes to help keep the eyes hydrated, sleep masks can help keep the eyes healthy during the night.
4. They can be good for your skin
Bad news for anyone who really wants their beauty sleep: cotton pillowcases can cause wrinkles and skin breakouts.
The pressure of your skin rubbing on the pillowcases during the night can make impressions on your skin and can break down the collagen that helps keep you looking young and smooth. Having special silk pillowcases can ease this.
So can sleep masks. That’s because they’ll help form an extra protective layer around the delicate skin of your eyes. This will stop any sleep creases from appearing and breaking down the collagen, making you look younger for longer.
For better effects, you’ll want to make sure your mask is made from breathable fabrics like silk and kept free of scented fabric softener. There are even masks with rounded eye patches, helping prevent long-lashes from getting squished and crumpled in the night.
5. They can help boost your mental health
A sleep mask can do wonders for your mental health.
That’s because sleeping in total darkness has been shown to reduce depression. In one study, it was shown that people who saw just a small amount of light at night were more likely to suffer from symptoms of depression. And when we say small, we mean small. This was tested on just 5 lux of light, which is about the same as 5 candles from a metre away.
This conclusion was also found in a study by the American Journal of Epidemiology, who linked nighttime exposure to light to depression in elderly people.
Because of these studies, scientists have also hypothesised that light doesn’t just increase the risk of depression but also lowers the quality of sleep.
What’s the best type of sleep mask?
There are so many sleep masks on the market that it can be almost impossible to decide which is the right one to choose. So, let’s break it down a little.
The first thing you have to do is consider the fit and how to wear a sleep mask. You need it tight enough that it will stay secure on your face in the night. If it falls off when you move about, it’s not doing its purpose. But don’t make it too tight, or you’ll leave impression lines on your face. It won’t be comfortable.
You need the goldilocks approach here. Not too tight and not too loose. Make sure it’s just right.
Most sleep masks come with adjustable straps, helping get that fit right. But there are also several different types and materials to consider, including:
- Raised profile sleep masks
These are sleep masks that are raised in different places, rather than being one level band that does all the way across your eyes. This means that the sleep makes will only touch your face in certain places, usually along the eyes of the mask.
Because there’s only a little bit of contact with this sleep mask, it will help ease any discomfort from wearing them and should give you a more comfortable nights sleep.
- Aromatherapy sleep masks
These are sleeping masks that have added aromatherapy benefits, like lavender or chamomile scents. These masks are good at relieving stress and helping you drift off more easily, but aren’t recommended for those with sensitive skin.
- Blackout sleep masks
As briefly touched earlier, there are some sleeping masks that are designed to block out as much light as possible. With them, you’ll get total darkness, making them the most effective sleep masks on the market.
- Weighted sleep masks
Weighted sleep masks are exactly as they sound. They’re normal sleep masks, with extra weight sown into them to hold them down.
Why? Because research has shown that touch can improve sleep quality. That’s because having the pressure of touch on your skin promotes the release of serotonin, making you feel good and help improve your sleep.
A weighted sleep mask is like an extra hug, for your face. Of course, some people might prefer to use a weighted blanket rather than a sleeping mask.
- Silk sleep masks
Nothing says luxury like a silk sleep mask. But silk masks hold a lot of benefits than just feeling nice (although that is a bonus!).
Silk masks are full of natural proteins, including sericin. This protein helps reduce the chance of allergic reactions, making the silk mask pretty hypo-allergic for those with sensitive skin.
In addition, silk is great at regulating temperature. This means that in the winter it will help keep you warm, while in the summer it will keep you cool. It’s a year-round winner.
- Wrap around sleep masks
If you can’t get comfortable with a normal sleep mask, you might want to consider a wrap-around mask. These have a completely different design, wrapping around your entire head rather than just covering the eyes.
They may look like overkill, but they can help block out sound as well as light. So if there are noises that are keeping you awake, this mask will block them.
- Cooling gel eye masks
Some sleep masks come with compartments that you can add cooling gel inserts into. These are designed for the beauty conscious in mind, helping to reduce any eye puffiness and give your eyes some TLC while you get your rest.
Are sleep masks safe?
Yes, sleep masks are safe. They are designed to sit over your eyes, without putting any damaging pressure on them.
But, it’s worth pointing out that incorrect usage can lead to some health concerns. For example, if you wear the mask too tight, it will put pressure on your face. This could lead to irritated skin, a sleep mask eye infection or ingrown eyelashes.
But as long as your sleep mask is correctly worn and washed often, you shouldn’t experience any unsafe side effects. If you’re noticing irritation, switch to a more hypoallergic and sensitive material like silk.
Sleep masks are worth the investment
Sleep masks are a quick and easy way to block out the light when it’s time to sleep. By blocking out the light, you’ll improve your circadian rhythm and signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep.
This will increase the levels of melatonin in your body, helping you fall asleep faster and for longer.
In our books, that makes sleep masks worth it. In reality, there’s only one way to find out for sure. Test them and see what difference it makes. It could be the difference between you lying awake for hours at night, or getting the sleep you deserve.