We’ve all grown up seeing sleep masks worn on TV and in the movies. People wear them when trying to sleep during the day, on airplane rides, in hotel rooms, etc.
But do sleep masks work?
And if so, how well do they work?
Today, you’re going to learn all about sleep masks, what they do, and how they work.
You’re also going to learn the surprising science behind the concept.
Spoiler alert: It’s actually pretty cool stuff.
Here’s what you need to know.
What Is a Sleep Mask?
A sleep mask, also called an eye mask, is a type of mask that you wear over your eyes while sleeping.
It looks like a soft black (or dark-colored) mask that roughly resembles a cross between a quilted pair of sunglasses and a blindfold, and is usually held in place by some kind of elastic band.
They are designed to be comfortable. But they are also designed with a specific purpose in mind—to block out light, thereby enabling you to sleep better.
You’ve probably seen people wearing them on airplanes. You’ve probably seen them for sale. Possibly, you’ve even tried one!
But what are they actually supposed to do? What is their purpose?
Let’s talk about that first.
What’s the Purpose of a Sleep Mask?
The main purpose of a sleep mask is to block out light, thereby enabling the wearer to get a better night’s sleep as a result.
Here’s the thing.
Darkness actually triggers your body to produce a hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for making you feel sleepy, and is essential to helping you fall asleep in a relaxed and comfortable state.
In fact, a lack of melatonin is one cause of insomnia—though stress and cortisol levels can also be to blame.
Let’s talk a little bit about this essential hormone, and why it is so important to your quality of rest.
What Is Melatonin?
Specifically speaking, melatonin is a signaling molecule that is released from the pineal gland—predominantly during the night.
Melatonin production is usually aided by darkness—whereas light tends to block its production.
This is actually a key factor when talking about sleep masks—because the whole point of a sleep mask is to help block out light, thereby increasing melatonin production and aiding sleep.
According to statistics, roughly 50 to 70 million people are affected by poor sleep.
When you don’t get the sleep you need, you face problems.
These can include a lack of energy, an inability to concentrate, daytime fatigue—and an increase in your risk for certain diseases, like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
This is where melatonin comes into the picture.
Melatonin is often called the ‘sleep hormone,’ because when your brain releases enough of it into your body, you gain the ability to relax and fall asleep.
Melatonin is an important hormone to help keep your body in sync with its natural circadian rhythm.
If you suffer from sleep problems, tend to wake up easily at night, don’t remember having dreams, or have an unusually anxious time trying to rest—it may be because you have low melatonin levels.
Do Sleep Masks Improve Sleep?
Studies have actually been conducted on this exact question.
Do sleep masks work?
During one study, Chinese researchers carried out an experiment to see if sleep masks and earplugs actually helped ICU patients to sleep better.
And the results were actually pretty promising!
According to the results of the study, participants who wore earplugs and eye masks experienced more REM time, shorter REM latency, and higher melatonin levels.
In other words—yes. Masks and earplugs did help the patients to sleep better.
Do Sleep Masks Work? The Benefits of Sleep Masks
Sleep masks have a bit of a stigma attached to them.
Some people see them as needless and frivolous.
There is even a stereotype that only the pretentiously rich use them.
In many movies, we seem them used by wealthy, snobby men and women who can’t be bothered to sleep ‘normally’ during the daylight hours.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, it is most certainly safe to say that more of us should probably be using them.
In addition to the fact that they actually work, sleep masks also provide a bunch of additional benefits.
They Help You to Sleep Better
Humans need to sleep well to be healthy, happy, and functional.
And according to studies, sleep masks definitely help to achieve that objective.
Whether you are sleeping in a hotel room with lights coming through the windows, on a noisy flight where you don’t have a quiet environment, or during the day in a room that’s not outfitted with blackout curtains: sleep masks offer an effective, efficient option for aiding the quality of your rest.
They Are Less Expensive to Buy Than Blackout Curtains
For those of you who have ever held down a night job, you are probably familiar with blackout curtains.
They are the heavy, sturdy, dark, and expensive curtains that help you to block out extra sunlight during the day.
Do they work? Yes. They actually work really well.
But they aren’t incredibly efficient or affordable, especially if you have several windows in your bedroom.
A small sleep mask, however, that fits comfortably over your eyes—now that is efficient. But it is also much, much, MUCH cheaper.
They Are Completely Safe
Unlike sketchy sleep medications, sleeping pills, or even alcohol, sleep masks are pretty much completely safe.
They do not present you with any major side effects to your health and well-being. They have a couple of downsides—but we will discuss those more in a moment.
For the most part, sleep masks work really well—and they present no dangerous side effects to speak of.
Are Sleep Masks Bad For You?
Sleep masks are not entirely without their downsides.
But you will find that the downsides are indeed pretty slight.
The actual pros and cons of sleep masks depend on the type of sleep mask being used.
Here is a rundown of the different types.
The 6 Different Types of Sleep Masks
There are basically 6 different types of sleep masks.
Here is a quick look at the pros and cons of each type.
Silk Sleep Masks
These types of masks are a bit more expensive, but they tend to be really gentle on the skin.
- Helps your skin to stay moisturized
- Get dirty faster
- The material tends to weaken after several washes
Cotton Sleep Masks
These types of masks tend to be more affordable, though there are some higher-end cotton sleep masks that are quite luxurious!
- Absorbent (helps wick away sweat)
- Helps to keep the face cool
- Can wick away too much moisture, leaving your skin dry
- Cotton can wear over time, changing shape and fading in color
Polyester Sleep Masks
These types of masks are easy to come by and are probably the most common type of sleep mask you will find when ordering online or buying in a retail store. They are usually made from polyester blended with cotton.
- Not as breathable
- Not as soft
- Not as environmentally friendly
Satin Sleep Masks
Satin and silk are actually pretty similar. But there are a few key differences! Satin sleep masks are usually designed to be luxury products—so they are a bit fancier and more expensive.
- Works extremely well
- Not as breathable
- Tends to wrinkle easily
- Not as durable
Gel Sleep Masks
These masks are made of a gel-like material, and are perhaps best well known for their temperature-retaining abilities. You can store them in the refrigerator or warm them up to help cool you down or keep you toasty—which is pretty cool.
- Works very well for headaches and migraines
- Keeps you warm or cool
- A great option if you tend to suffer from sinus pain
- Not as comfortable overall
- Don’t work well when sleeping on your side
- May put more pressure on the eyes, thereby reducing comfort even further
Foam Sleep Masks
Foam sleep masks are lightweight, fluffy, and comfy. But they do come with a few downsides of their own.
- Very comfortable
- Thick, to keep out the light
- Not as breathable
- May get too warm
- More expensive
- Some of them can smell a bit weird
Do Sleep Masks Work? Our Final Conclusion
In a word, yes. They actually work quite well.
The only caveat is that you need to find the type of mask that works best for you.
In all honesty, these products work wonders for people from all walks of life. And they are inexpensive enough that you can easily try one out without breaking the bank.
So if you’ve always been curious and wondered… do sleep masks work, and should you get one?
The answer is probably a big ‘yes!’