If you’re someone who has trouble sleeping, be that trouble drifting off to sleep at night, or simply restlessness during the night, you’ve likely tried many things to improve your sleep fortunes. Sleeping pills maybe, or natural remedies such as valerian root, or chamomile tea before bed perhaps. But the chances are you’ve not considered and probably not tried a sleep mask. Whilst global sales for sleep masks do appear to be growing year on year, it’s at a reasonably modest rate, rather than sky high growth. So if you’ve not considered a sleep mask before, we’re here to tell you maybe you should. In addition to benefits to sleep quality, there are many other health benefits from sleeping with a sleep mask.
What Is a Sleep Mask?
A sleep mask, or eye mask, as they are also often know, is a fabric or material mask that rests over the eyes with enough material surrounding the eyes in all directions, above, below and to the sides, to effectively block out all light creating pitch black darkness. The mask is then typically secured around the back of the head with an elasticated band, about an inch in thickness, to ensure it stays in place during the night. Often considered something you might wear whilst travelling, like on a long haul flight for example, or something the ‘high maintenance’ among us might wear for their beauty sleep, a sleep mask is actually something that most of us could do with and gain benefit from, most of the time.
Why Use A Sleep Mask?
And so to the main event. Why would you wear a sleep mask, if you didn’t absolutely have to? There are two main buckets of reasons as to why you’d wear a sleep mask; (i) to improve your sleep quality, and then (ii) basically all the other health-related reasons to do so. In reality though it’s all connected as you’ll see, buts let’s start with improved sleep quality.
The body’s natural clock, your circadian rhythm, is influenced by a number of things, but one of the main factors is light. Be it natural light, or artificial light, our circadian rhythm can be disrupted by light pollution when we’re trying to sleep and during the night. If you sense light, because there is light – even in small quantities, your circadian rhythm can mistakenly believe it’s time to be awake, and hence prevents the production of a cocktail of hormones in the body that should be produced when we are asleep.
Melatonin for example, is a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland, that helps regulate our sleep cycle. Whilst naturally occurring in the body, its production and release into the bloodstream can be inhibited by light, and so called blue light in particular. Some people actually take melatonin as a supplement to their diet, but evidence of effectiveness in aiding sleep when introduced to the body in this way, is not strong. As melatonin levels increase within the body, we progress better through the various stages of sleep and onwards to deep sleep. Deep sleep, an advanced stage of the sleep cycle, is when your body renews and repairs itself for the day ahead.
The older we get the less deep sleep we enjoy, but even in increasingly shorter quantities as we age, deep sleep is important for things like memory, both short and long-term memory. It’s also important for learning, for growth and repair of body tissue, including muscles as well as bones. The healthy function of the immune system is also bolstered by good quality sleep.
But that’s not all, sleep quality, or lack of, is also linked to conditions such as heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Poor sleep quality and lack of sleep are also contributory factors to some mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
What Are Sleep Masks Made Of?
Sleep masks are available in a wide variety of materials, such as natural fibres like cotton and silk, and synthetic materials like polyester, as well as blends like polycotton.
There are a few things to consider when selecting the right mask for you. Firstly bear in mind you’re potentially going to be wearing it for a long time, through the whole night. And assuming you’re going to be wearing it every night, you’ll also be wearing it a lot – so it needs to be comfortable. Ideally you want to choose a breathable material, particularly for the warmer months of the year. In the height of summer, the last thing you want is something that makes your face and the area surrounding your eyes sweaty and clammy. Try it on before you buy if possible, and also think about your sleeping style, will it be comfortable if you sleep on your back or your side, or however it is you prefer to sleep?
If you’ve not used a mask such as this before, it will take some getting used to, as it’s a very different departure. If you don’t get off to a good start, do try and persevere for about a week or so before you throw in the towel and give up, as it can take that long to adjust.
The Future of Sleep Masks
It seems like everything around us is being impacted by the digital revolution, with relentless technological advancement and innovation – well the lowly sleep mask is no different. Dreamlight, an American company based in California, are bringing the sleep mask very much into the modern age with their range of smart masks.
Their masks have been created using 3D mapping technology to ensure a perfect fit with your face, and hence pitch black darkness perfect to the promotion of good sleep. They also incorporate heat therapy which aids relaxation and better rest. They also incorporate technologies to stimulate mindful breathing, and the production of melatonin. The Dreamlight’s heart-rate monitor and gyroscope capture your vital sleep data in a companion smartphone app, giving you personal insight into your sleep habits and patterns.
Whether you opt for an old school sleep mask, or something that looks like it would be more at home in a sci fi movie is your choice. But either way, give a sleep mask a try, you won’t believe what you’ve been missing out on!