Do Sleep Masks Improve Your Quality of Sleep?

The National Sleep Foundation says that ‘a dark bedroom contributes to better sleep’ and recommends light-blocking draperies or a sleep mask to achieve this.  Depending on the cause of your sleeplessness, one of the simplest and most effective ways of achieving darkness when you want to sleep is with a sleep mask.

In this article we’ll look at the benefits and drawbacks of sleep masks and how to go about looking for a good one.

What is a sleep mask and what are its benefits?

Sleep masks are worn around the head and over the eyes to block out the light and give better quality sleep, which is essential for our health.

According to research by the National Institute of Sleep, using a sleep mask and ear plugs can reduce the time it takes to get to sleep and increase the amount of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

Researchers have also found that their study subjects had higher levels of circulating melatonin in their blood and (therefore) awoke less frequently than those who didn’t wear masks or ear plugs.

What are the drawbacks of a sleep mask?

They can take a few nights to get used to – having a band around your head, even a comfortable one, is an odd sensation.

You may feel self conscious wearing one.

You might want 2 so that one can be washed while the other is worn and use them in rotation.

If you find you sleep too soundly and can’t wake up easily, a sleep mask may not be for you.  The body’s natural ‘waking’ hormone is cortisol and is released in the morning when light hits the back of the eye.  If the light can’t reach the eye you may not get all of this natural wake-up call and find it harder to function first thing in the morning.

When looking for a good sleep mask consider:

    • It should fit comfortably and snugly but not be too tight – if you take it off and the skin

      over the scalp tingles then it’s been too tight.  The strap should therefore be adjustable.

    • The fabric should be soft and comforting, as well as dark and washable.   Fleece, microfibre or soft wool is ideal.
    • The mask shouldn’t put any pressure on your eye.
    • A design that holds the mask off the eyes will allow you to open your eyes comfortably while wearing it and won’t touch your eyelashes as some people don’t like this sensation.
    • Some have aromatherapy qualities with them too such as camomile and lavender which are relaxing herbs and have been used for their calming properties for centuries.  For more on natural sedatives click here.
    • Look for a sleep mask that’s designed for function rather than one that just looks pretty!
    • It should fit around the eyes and down over the bridge of your nose without pressing on or blocking your nose.
    • It should conform comfortably to your face.
    • We’ve chosen 3 of the best here.

So will a sleep mask help you sleep better?

Yes if you:

      • Live in a city and street lighting keeps you awake or have bedroom clocks or other LED displays that light the room
      • Want to try an alternative to changing draperies
      • Work at night and daytime light keeps you awake when you want to sleep
      • Travel and want to sleep either en route or to reduce jet lag
      • Expect to have to get used to a mask in the first few nights.

Probably not if:

    • There are other reasons for your insomnia, although they’re inexpensive to try.
    • You can’t get used to the sensation of having the mask on your face at night.
    • Already have total black out in your bedroom.

If you’re in doubt then see this article about the myths of sleep masks:

Elspeth Raisbeck

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