Bring, bring, BRIIIING.
That’s the noise of your alarm going off after another night of poor sleep. You’ve tried it all, from cutting caffeine to taking a hot bath before bed, but nothing seems to work.
Could a sleep mask — which is used to block out light — help you get the shut-eye you so desperately need? Let’s take a look.
Being exposed to light at bedtime can interrupt your body’s natural sleep cues.
Not having enough melatonin can lead to sleep issues or disorders, like insomnia.
An eye mask can block out artificial light that can prevent you from falling asleep.
“Eye masks can really help improve your overall quality of sleep,” Osmun says.
They can also provide a calming effect that may encourage you to nod off faster.
“Another benefit of an eye mask is the soothing feeling on the face and eyes,” Osmun explains. “The gentle pressure and soft material can be very relaxing for people and help trigger a calm feeling.”
A 2013 study drew similar conclusions. Ten healthy sleepers underwent two polysomnography (PSG) sessions, one with the lights off and one with the lights on. During the lights-on session, the group experienced “shallow sleep and frequent arousals.”
Blocking out light with a sleep mask may be beneficial, but Osmun says they aren’t for everyone. It comes down to personal preference.
Luckily, there’s a lot of variety in the types of sleep masks available, so you’re likely to find one that suits your needs.
Not all sleep masks are created equal. There are plenty of different types available, each offering its own set of benefits.
- cloth masks
- gel masks
- weighted masks
- cushioned masks
- heated masks
Cloth eye mask
There are many types of cloth eye masks, from silk and cashmere to cotton, velvet, and even fleece.
“Cloth eye masks are versatile and can work for most people,” Osmun notes. “Depending on the fabric you choose, they can have different benefits. For example, silk cloth masks are great if you have sensitive skin.”
Gel eye mask
If you’re a person who enjoys cold pressure, you might find a gel sleep mask helps you drift off.
“In order to sleep, your body temperature needs to drop, so if you have a cooling eye mask, then you will likely speed this process along, as long as it’s not freezing cold,” Osmun explains.
Cooling eye masks can help with:
- allergy symptoms
- itchy eyes
- dark circles
- high temperatures
Weighted eye mask
“In the same way that weighted blankets can be beneficial to helping people feel calm, weighted eye masks have the same effect,” Osmun explains.
These masks typically have small beads inside that provide extra weight to create a heavy sensation.
Cushioned eye mask
A cushioned eye mask can feel comfier to wear and less restrictive. They also tend to fit the contour of your face better.
Osmun says cushioned masks tend to be thicker too, and they’re able to fully block out the light.
Heated sleep masks
“Heated eye masks are generally relaxing, in the same way that a heated compress can be soothing for people,” Osmun says.
“One of the medical reasons that people could use a heated eye mask is for dry eyes,” she adds. Heat “stimulates oil glands that produce tears and also help to trap moisture in the eyes, improving eye hydration.”
It’s possible that sleep masks may help you get a good night’s rest. But what about your skin? Could a sleep mask help ward off acne, slow the formation of wrinkles, and reduce under eye circles?
“Sleep masks are relaxing, and that’s great for your skin and complexion in general, but they add very little after this, unless they are enriched with powerful active ingredients, or products,” she explains.
“Getting a lasting glow after a night’s sleep is really about treating your skin from the inside out — as well as topical skin care — so eating healthily and sleeping well is a must,” she adds.
As for acne, a sleep mask could lead to buildup or residue on the skin, particularly if you don’t keep the mask clean.
“Re-wearing an eye mask that has dirt or grease on the inside could cause a buildup of sebum or grease on the skin, though I’d be surprised if this went as far as to cause a full blown break out,” Brazzini says.
She notes that wearing the mask for a short period of time won’t deprive the skin of necessary oxygen.
Her advice is to wear your sleep mask loosely. This means it’ll likely slip off as you’re sleeping, and it shouldn’t have an adverse effect on the skin around your eyes.
Few people look their best while tired, and a restless night can give skin a haggard appearance. But when it comes to wrinkles, are sleep masks a blessing or a bane?
There’s no proof that wearing a sleep mask can accelerate the aging process, though Brazzini says it can give the illusion of wrinkles in the short term.
“You might wake up to find a strong crease around your eyes after wearing a sleep mask, and this might be to do with the fabric,” she explains. “Synthetic fibers create friction on your skin, dragging the delicate top skin cells on your face, which can lead to the creation of short-term wrinkles and creases.”
Brazzini believes a good quality silk mask can rectify the problem, since they’re more delicate on the eye area.
Under eye circles
Dark under eye circles are often a clear giveaway that you’ve had a poor night’s sleep. But Brazzini says you shouldn’t expect a sleep mask to fix the problem.
“Some masks infused with product may do this, but I can’t see why a material mask would affect under eye circles,” she says.
For some people, under eye circles get better with rest. But for others, they can be a sign of chronic fatigue, allergies, hypothyroidism, and other conditions.
Sleep masks not for you? Fortunately, there are some alternatives, including:
- blackout curtains
- herbs and supplements
- cooling clothes and sheets
- lifestyle changes
- prescription medication
Like sleep masks, blackout curtains can block out light that prevents you from sleeping. Unlike eye masks, they don’t offer direct contact. For some, this can be a benefit.
Whether you prefer a mask or a blackout curtain for blocking light is a matter of personal preference.
Herbs and supplements
There are plenty of herbs and supplements that can help aid sleep. These include:
- lemon balm
“Magnesium works to improve your sleep by binding to gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to calm your mood, lower stress levels, and help you unwind for sleep,” she explains.
Additionally, magnesium helps to improve melatonin production.
“Melatonin controls your circadian rhythm, which, in turn, helps you have a healthy sleep cycle,” Osmun explains.
You can also get melatonin in supplement form, though researchers are concerned about dosages and prolonged use.
Cool clothes and sheets
Just like the gel eye masks mentioned above, cooling clothes and sheets may also help bring your temperature down when you go to bed.
Cotton or bamboo fabrics may provide the relief you need. You could even try popping your pajamas or sheets in the freezer for a few minutes before bedtime.
There may be small adjustments you can make to your daily routine that support a better night’s sleep. For instance, cutting your alcohol and caffeine consumption can help your sleep quality improve.
Osmun also recommends exercise.
“Exercise can help you get restful sleep at night,” she says. “Even if you only exercise for 10 to 30 minutes, a regular fitness routine helps improve health, reduce stress, and improve sleep quality.”
Osmun suggests strength training or cardio, like running, biking, and swimming.
If nothing else seems to work, you may want to talk with your doctor.
“If you’re thinking of taking medicine to help with sleep, you should always consult a medical professional,” Osmun advises. “There can be benefits of taking medicinal sleep aids, but they can also be addictive and have negative side effects, so it’s very important to not self-prescribe.”
Sometimes, a sleep mask won’t be enough to help you sleep. Osmun says you should speak with a doctor if you have regular sleep problems that impact the quality of your life.
“Sleep is integral to our mental and physical health, so if you struggle getting to sleep, it’s not something that should be ignored,” she says.
Most adults need around 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, and when you regularly miss out, it can majorly impact your health. In fact, older
That means that treating sleep problems is not something to sideline.
You spend a huge portion of your life sleeping, and the quality of your sleep affects every aspect of your life.
If you have difficulty getting to or staying asleep, sources of artificial light could be to blame, and a sleep mask may be of benefit.
However, if your sleep problems persist, it’s important to speak with your doctor.
Victoria Stokes is a writer from the United Kingdom. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development, and well-being, she usually has her nose stuck in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails, and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her on Instagram.