Sleep Mask –
everything you need to know
You see them in airplanes or movies and most often they’re worn by women. There is some kind of feminine touch to them, but I guess this is going to change over the next few years. What I’m talking about? The sleep mask of course.
In my opinion, it’s a completely undervalued tool for better sleep.
Can’t make your room completely dark as recommended? Wear a sleep mask.
Don’t want to make your room completely dark, because it prevents fresh air from getting into the room? Wear a sleep mask.
You’re travelling a lot or doing shift work where you have to sleep during the day? Wear a sleep mask.
It sounds like a magic pill, but it is necessary to add that it isn’t. In order to achieve great sleep you still need to take care of your other sleep habits as well, but a sleep mask can really help you do that.
This article is about the sleep mask starting with what it is, moving on to why it is important and which masks are out there on the market. So let’s get started and find you the perfect sleep mask.
What is a sleep mask?
A sleep mask is basically a piece of fabric that is used to cover both of your eyes. Most common sleep masks have an elastic strap attached to them that you put over your head, which keeps the sleep mask in the right position. Of course, there are also some other versions, but that’s the standard.
The main function of a sleep mask is to block light from your eyes, especially during the night, while you are asleep.
It can also be used during naps or simply to relax, as it can help you to get into your own world of relaxation. This can be especially useful during meditation when you want to focus on your inner state of the body instead of the outer world.
How can a sleep mask help you with your sleep?
As you already read above, the main purpose of a sleep mask is to block light from your eyes, but why can this improve your sleep?
If you’ve read some of my other articles (tk), you know that I usually recommend sleeping in a completely dark environment. This can be achieved by closing your blinds completely or getting black out curtains (the ones the have in hotels).
A sleep mask, however, can help you achieve subjective darkness in the room, even if there is still light shining into the room. Subjectively you just won’t notice it, when wearing a sleep mask.
Whatever way you choose, it’s important, because light affects your sleep by influencing your body’s circadian rhythm.
The Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock that tells your brain whether it’s time to be awake or time to sleep. This is done using hormones, for example, cortisol (“a wake-up hormone”) and melatonin (“a sleep hormone”).
This internal clock is affected by external stimuli such as light and temperature which also tend to be the most influential ones. For this article, we focus on light only.
There are special cells in your eyes that register (sun)light and forward the information about the light exposure to your brain.
For example: Imagine waking up in the morning with bright sunlight. As soon as you’ll open your eyes (and even before that, since your eyelids let the light shine through), you body triggers the hormones that wake you up and keep you awake.
(This process starts up to one or two hours prior to waking up, to be exact, but since we’re only focusing on the effect of light, I’ll spare you the details.)
A similar thing happens in the evening when it gets dark outside. In an ideal sleep world (without electric lights), it will be completely dark outside and again the cells in your eyes register this.
The absence of light tells you that it’s time to sleep and the processes for getting ready to sleep are triggered, for example, serotonin (a neurotransmitter/hormone) is converted to melatonin (the sleep hormone mentioned above).
Since a sleep mask helps you to block out light completely, the process of falling asleep benefits from this, as it would from total darkness achieved without a sleep mask.
Another thing a sleep mask can help you with is to prevent nightly awakenings.
I don’t know where you live, but if you live in the city center there’s a chance that you wake up during the night, because of outside lights.
A car drives by or the street light shines through your window. If you can’t close the blinds or get black out curtains, a sleep mask is a proper solution. It can also help you get to sleep easier if you wake up during the night, for example, if you have to go to the toilet.
Sleep masks can also help you with shift work and travel.
Shift work & travel
In case you’re doing shift work or have to travel a lot you might already be familiar with sleep masks and own one. In case you’re not you should definitely think about it.
As already mentioned above a sleep mask will block out the light that keeps you awake. This is essential if you have to sleep with bright daylight when doing shift work of if you have to sleep while flying.
Although the human body will never adjust to shift work or frequent time zone changes, a sleep mask still can help you to keep healthier sleep habits and get more sleep if you need it.
Let’s look at some of the masks aspects in more detail.
The three most important things when it comes to finding a sleep mask
When it comes to sleep masks there are literally dozens, if not hundreds of brands, styles, colours and sizes you can choose from, but in the end, there are three important things to look for first, at least in my opinion. Fit, darkness & fabric.
The other aspects play also a role in the purchasing process, but without a proper fit, darkness & fabric the sleep mask will be rather useless.
You want your sleep mask to fit your eyes and head comfortably. Did you ever try to sleep with clothing that wasn’t comfortable? It’s really annoying and I bet that most people won’t be able to sleep unless they change their outfit or undress completely.
It’s the same thing, if not more important for your sleep mask. Think about it, you’re not used to wearing something around your head while sleeping, so it is much more important to find a sleep mask that fits properly.
Usually, the high-quality sleep masks are more expensive, but trust me when I say that the one who buys cheaply, buys (at least) twice. We’ll get to that in a second.
You don’t want the sleep mask to scratch, twitch or squeeze anything around your head.
You don’t want the mask to fit too tight or too wide. In the first case you won’t be able to wear it through the night, in the second case you will lose it during the night or it will simply “fall off”.
You want it to stay on your eyes and cover them up completely in whatever position you’re sleeping in.
This brings me to the second important aspect: darkness.
You want your mask to entirely block light from your eyes. That’s what it’s supposed to do, right? The fabric should be so thick that you can’t see through it and you want the mask itself to be formed in a way that there won’t be any cracks were lights can still shine through.
Of course, these first two aspects complement each other. If the mask fits well, the possibility of slipping and letting light pass through is minimised.
Actually, there is a third, often underestimated factor, which is the fabric itself.
Ideally, you’re sleeping for at least 7 hours every night, which means that the sleep mask will be on your face for quite some time. In order to feel comfortable wearing the sleep mask, the fabric needs to feel good.
I recommend using natural fabrics, i.e. cotton, but you personally should know what the best fabrics for your skin are. If you’re prone to allergies, I’d recommend you choose a hypoallergenic fabric which is washable as well.
You don’t want your sleep mask to cause any skin rashes.
You want it to feel comfortable even after wearing it 6+ hours.
What else you should look out for
When you’re trying to find the right sleep mask for you, especially when searching online, you can easily get overwhelmed. There are so many choices, that it’s easy to get lost in the world of online shopping.
I already outlined my personal three most important factors for sleep masks. Fit, darkness & fabric. I personally think that by choosing a sleep mask according to those three factors you will find a very good sleep mask.
Acknowledging the fact that you probably can’t test the sleep mask before buying it, here are a few other things you should watch out for.
Space for your eyes
Your eyes move during sleep, especially during REM sleep, which is named after those movements (rapid eye movement). That’s why it’s important that your eyes (& eyelids) can move without constraints. Some sleep masks include special “chambers” for your eyes, so you can even open them under the sleep mask. Most often they’re named “contoured sleep mask”.
In order to find your perfect sleep mask you should pay attention to the strap as well. Is it rather thin or is it thicker? How tightly does it fit and what fabric is it made of? Is it easy to get your hair entangled in it, or does it just slide smoothly over your hair? You certainly don’t want to pull out some of your hair, every time you put on that sleep mask.
Also usually the thinner the strap, the higher the possibility of it leaving any marks. The broader the strap the better it usually fits.
Besides straps, there are also some sleep masks that use velcro straps, which might be a valid option as well.
If you wear your sleep mask every night, for example in the summer, you definitely want to be able to wash it. You’re going to sweat when the climate is warmer and to prevent any bacteria or dirt to collect on the sleep mask you should wash it from time to time.
Style & Colour
If you’re going to buy a sleep mask you’re probably going to keep it for some time. This is why you should pay attention to the style as well. If you don’t want to wear it because it is “ugly” the sleep mask won’t help you with your sleep. Often times there are many colours & styles to choose from. The style & colour are certainly not as important as the fit, but you still should think about it.
When researching for this article and when buying my own sleep mask, I found a couple of sleep masks that had a tag on them. I personally would never buy such a mask because I believe it could be really annoying to have a tag attached to the sleep mask. The risk of it annoying me during my sleep was just too high. Pay attention to tag, stitches, and other things that might annoy you during your sleep.
Think about your sleep position. If you’re lying on your back you probably can wear all sleep masks. However, you should pay attention to this when you’re sleeping on the side. If you’re sleeping on the stomach, you should think about addressing your sleep position first, since sleeping on the stomach is actually quite bad for your health.
If your head is especially big or small you should also think about the size of the sleep mask and about the length of the strap. I’ve read some reviews where people said that a mask didn’t fit them because their head was too big or too small. You will definitely find a sleep mask, but you need to pay attention to this as well. (An average sized head has a circumference of 55cm (21 3/4 inches) for females and 57cm (22 1/2 inches) for males.)
Also, think about the size of the sleep mask when you’re planning to use it for travel. Naturally, you want it to be as small and foldable as possible and not bulky. Some sleep mask can be rolled up, which is nice as well.
This is anything that goes beyond a regular sleep mask. There are scented sleep masks, gel sleep mask, and even intelligent sleep masks that track your sleep.
Most of this is unnecessary, but if you know that lavender helps you sleep better, why not go for a lavender scented sleep mask?
Choose carefully, though, sometimes scents or other things like that can get annoying over time.
Five sleep masks that might be good for you
I’ve personally only tested 2 sleep masks, one of which was a simple airplane sleep mask. All my other recommendations are based on online research. Also, don’t see this is a concrete recommendation, but more as an overview, to guide you in your search for your sleep mask.
I wanted to start with the most basic sleep mask there is, the one you get or at least got in airplanes. It’s usually a simple synthetic fabric, with a very thin strap. It’s okay to wear during a flight, but I wouldn’t recommend wearing it every day.
The pros of it are that it’s light and small, so it doesn’t take much of your travel storage. It usually also does a pretty decent job blocking out the light, especially since you are sleeping in an upright position.
Now let’s talk about the 5 sleep masks that might be a good fit for you.
This is the one I’m using right now. I personally think it’s a great mask, but as I said I don’t have many comparisons since at the moment I’m only owning one sleep mask.
Though this mask is quite unique. It’s the only sleep mask that uses a “wrap around your head” style, which is patented as well. It is fixed with a piece of velcro behind your head. The big benefit of this style is that it covers not only your eyes, but also your ears, which is nice if you don’t like ear plugs, but are affected by noise during sleep.
It fits comfortably (even around your nose) and doesn’t leave any cracks where light can pass through, even if you’re lying on your side.
It’s made from a satin fabric, although the inner is cotton, the outer shell is made from synthetic satin which is one of my only negative points. (I like natural fabrics). It’s washable & hypoallergenic.
They also claim that one size fits all, but I wouldn’t be too sure about that if your head is really big. Make sure to measure it beforehand.
Although it doesn’t look very small it can be folded and doesn’t take much space in your travel bag. It’s made in the USA.
Another aspect that might bother you is that it doesn’t have special eye chambers like some other masks do, but I personally didn’t experience this negatively yet. When the climate is warm it is also possible that you sweat beneath the mask, but I guess this is true for most sleep masks.
With $21, it’s a bit more expensive than a normal mask and there is also a deluxe model which comes with earplugs and a travel pouch for $25.
This one has extremely positive reviews on Amazon and many other sites recommend it as well. Is appears to be a bit smaller than the Sleepmaster sleep mask, but at least on the picture and based on other people’s reviews it should block light out effectively.
It has an elastic, adjustable back strap, that’s supposed to not tangle in any of your hair. The strap is adjustable from 15.8 to 27.6 inches. There is also an extra large version with two straps.
On some pictures, you can see a metal clip on the strap, but most people say you won’t feel it at all.
It’s made from hypoallergenic natural silk, which is used on both sides of the mask and it is washable as well. The sleep mask is also quite small, which is good for travelling.
It costs $10, which appears to be a great price for this mask and they offer a no questions asked money back/replacement lifetime guarantee.
This is the first contoured sleep mask on the list, which means that the shape of the mask is stronger and it has special chambers for your eyes, so you can open them completely even if you have the mask on.
The manufacturer claims that the mask won’t interfere with they eye movements during REM sleep.
The mask uses velcro straps and is lightweight and washable. Their other masks are made from bamboo and cotton, but I couldn’t find the exact materials for this one.
It also has great reviews and appears to be blocking out light effectively. The mask comes with a travel pouch as well as a set of Moldex earplugs, which have great reviews.
It costs $13, which seems to be a fair price for a good sleep mask.
As mentioned above there are special features for sleep masks, for example, aromatherapy. This isn’t for everyone and you need to make sure that you like the smell and don’t have any allergic reactions to it.
It’s made from silk and cotton and has elastic back straps that are adjusted with velcro. It uses a lavender scent, although it isn’t mentioned in the product description itself. (Check the reviews).
It appears to be a bit smaller than the other masks I mentioned, but reviews say that it blocks out light effectively. The small size should make it perfect for travel, but if you already unpacked it, think about the scent and how it will affect the other items in your travel bag.
Additionally, the mask seems to not last too long, so you have to buy them more often, but you can wash it per hand to make them last a bit longer.
The mask comes in a pack of two which costs around $16.
Today everything gets intelligent. We’re wearing fitness trackers and intelligent watches, so why not use an intelligent sleep mask? There are actually a few on the market, but I think that Neuroon has the biggest potential.
First of all, it does the most important thing a normal sleep mask does: block out the light. Besides that, it has a ton of other features. It tracks your sleep, wakes you up using lights, which you can also use for light therapy to reset your circadian rhythm or to counteract the effects of jet lag.
They’re also working on a lucid dreaming app, which should help you become a lucid dreamer (meaning that you can recognise that you dream and control your own dreams).
It uses EEG (brain waves), EOG (eye movement), pulse, motion and temperature to analyse your sleep.
While all of this sounds really great there are a few things that need to be fixed in order for this to be a great product (based on reviews). The battery only lasts for one night of sleep, which doesn’t matter if you don’t mind charging it every day. Some reviewers said that it lasted less than that, which isn’t good.
With $300, the sleep mask is also not cheap, but on the other side if it helps you sleep better, how valuable is that?
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try the mask myself, but as soon as I do I will update this article.
(More info on the Neuroon.)
Use a sleep mask to improve your sleep
Although sleep mask is often seen as feminine, they can be a great addition to your sleep tools. Once you find the right one it can help you get to sleep faster and sleep through the night.
You can also use it for naps and during travels or if you have to sleep during the day.
Whether it’s a normal or an intelligent sleep mask, I’m sure once you try it and find the right one you will not only sleep better but won’t go back to sleeping without it.
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