A dark room can be the difference between slipping off to sleep easily and tossing and turning for an hour. If your curtains are porous and thin, or you’re a shift worker who needs to sneak in zzz’s during daylight hours, or your partner likes to stay up late reading, sleep masks can be an easy—and inexpensive—solution. Sleep masks are available at drug stores as well as specialty stores and online, ranging in price from under $5 for a basic one to nearly $30 one that promises blackout darkness. Not all masks are created equal, however. These are some features to think about when you go shopping.
Light-Blocking: Sure, blocking unwanted light is the core purpose of a sleep mask. After all, darkness triggers your body to produce melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. But not all sleep masks create “blackout” or total darkness. And that can be okay. If you’re adding a sleep mask to an already-pretty-dark room in order to nix the small amounts of light that escape around curtains or from the hallway, a simple mask that covers your eyes and blocks out most of the light might be all you need—even if it allows some light to creep in around the edges. If you’re trying to catch a quick power nap in your brightly lit office in the middle of the day, though, you might want to pick one that blocks out as much light as possible (99 or 100 percent). Both fit and fabric can make a difference in a sleep mask’s light-blocking capability, so opt for one that you can try before you buy, or return if it doesn’t work for you.
Customizable Fit: For maximum darkness, pay attention to how the mask fits around your nose, where light can often sneak in. Higher-quality masks usually have a small flap of fabric sewn around the nose to help them fit different sizes of faces.
Eye Shape: Here’s something you may not have thought about when it comes to sleep masks: The slight pressure that traditional masks put on your eyelids and lashes may actually disrupt REM sleep and cause you to wake up feeling less rested. That’s why some masks are designed with “eye recesses” or “eye cavities” to avoid touching your eyes.
Fabric and Feel: Sleep masks come in a wide variety of materials including silk, satin, cotton, and even memory foam that conforms to the shape—and temperature—of your body. Since the mask will be right up close to the sensitive skin on your face, be sure to consider comfort, temperature, any allergies that you have, as well as how easy the mask will be to wash.
Please note that the National Sleep Foundation does not endorse specific products.