Sleep masks are a bit like marmite – some people love them while others hate them. However, a new study has found that wearing an eye mask at night has surprising health benefits, including improved memory and alertness.
If you’re looking to improve your sleep, one of the best ways to do so is by investing in the best mattress (opens in new tab). From there, it’s all about setting the mood to help encourage you to fall asleep and wake up refreshed and rested. Many people will turn to the best sleep headphones (opens in new tab) if they have issues with external noise, but what about external light?
Even with the curtains drawn and your eyes shut, external light can still seep in which is why many people choose to wear sleep masks to send them into complete darkness. This type of sensory deprivation can be extremely useful when it comes to a good night’s rest and as recently found by researchers at Cardiff University, sleep masks can have an impact on your memory.
Published in the Oxford Academic sleep journal (opens in new tab), researchers conducted a series of experiments where volunteers aged 18-35 wore an eye mask to bed and kept sleep diaries to record their experiences. Following the trial, participants took three different tests after waking up to measure brain power and it was revealed that those who wore sleep masks performed better on cognitive and reaction time exercises.
While the results didn’t find that sleep masks improved duration or quality of sleep, they did show that blocking out as much light as possible during the night can improve the process of receiving and registering information and overall memory and alertness.
Aside from improved memory and responsiveness, there are many benefits to wearing a sleep mask, from preventing ageing to combating insomnia. Here are 4 reasons why you should wear a sleep mask to bed.
1. Improves sleep quality
Wearing a sleep mask is an effective way to cut out external light. Artificial light from screens or natural light from outside affects your body’s production of melatonin, the sleepy hormone, so if you’re exposed to this before bedtime, it can prevent you from falling asleep and disrupt the quality and duration of sleep (for more details see our guide to blue light and how it affects you (opens in new tab)). As sleep masks provide an extra layer against light, they can help you fall asleep quicker as you’re not exposed to distractions.
2. Has a calming effect
Many sleep mask wearers say that wearing one to bed provides a calming effect. Regardless of the weight of your sleep mask (although there are weighted options available), the gentle pressure from it and the soft material can provide a soothing feeling to your face and eyes, helping you relax and fall asleep faster.
3. Can relieve headaches & eye problems
Using a sleep mask has been found to help soothe headaches and migraines. Light sensitivity is extremely hard to deal with if you have a headache so cutting this out with a sleep mask can ease this pain or help you avoid it entirely. Many migraine sufferers have also found putting a sleep mask in the fridge or freezer before using it can reduce head pains. Sleep masks can also be helpful for people with eye problems such as dry eyes or allergies. According to Casper (opens in new tab), sleep masks can trap moisture around the eyes, keeping them hydrated and protecting them against dust and other allergens.
4. Prevents wrinkles
Depending on the sleep mask you have, they can be very beneficial to your skin, for example, sleep masks can protect the skin around the eyes and reduce wrinkles. They also act as a protective barrier against your pillow (opens in new tab), which if you haven’t cleaned your sheets in a while, can have a lot of bacteria and dirt build-up. Having said this, it’s important to choose the right sleep mask so you’re helping your skin and not hindering it. Firstly, you should choose a sleep mask that actually fits your face so it doesn’t leave dents or lines, and you need to pick a material that’s kind to your skin, preferably silk. Finally, you should wash your sleep mask regularly as it can hold grease and dirt which can irritate your skin and cause breakouts.
For more sleep tips, check out our thoughts on the Manta Sleep Mask PRO (opens in new tab) and get on top of your sleep analytics with the best sleep trackers (opens in new tab).