Sleep Masks - What's the big deal?

Woman sleep on bed with sleep mask; Green overlay over picture

Sleep Masks – Just a fad?

You’ve seen the ads and heard discussions, so what’s the fuss about Sleep Masks? Aren’t they just beauty products and another fast-fading fad? That’s the common misconception and stereotype. Just another gimmick for ladies.  We thought so as well, but in reality, they’re a very useful sleep aid that more women as well as men should be utilizing. Rather than try sleep inducing medicines with potentially harmful side effects, other crazy suggestions, or even safer natural options like melatonin to help you get quality sleep, using sleep mask are a cost-effective and scientifically proven way, to help you improve sleep quality and duration. And the best part? There are no side-effects.  Why is better sleep quality even a conversation topic?

Lack of sleep and its effects

Whether it’s adults like you and me or worse yet, our kids, Health Canada and the CDC report that more than 35% of adults are not getting enough quality sleep, with the biggest percentage of unhappy sleepers in the 35-64 age range. That’s you, now or someday. And unfortunately, given our technology impacted lifestyle, this problem is increasing quickly amongst our kids, 25% of which are not getting enough sleep. We know and agree, feeling tired and suffering from lack of sleep is just part of being an adult. So just deal with it right? But do we really understand the chronic impacts of lack of sleep in adults and especially kids? Factors such as:

  • Short-term memory loss and lack of concentration or focus on activities - a big problem for kids trying to learn
  • Obesity, diabetes and heart disease in adults
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Increased potential for breast and prostate cancer
  • Insomnia, and other sleep disorders in adults and increasingly kids

The Sleep Mask connection

Okay, so good quality sleep is important. But, how does a sleep mask help?

Here’s how. Although some aspects of why we sleep are still unknown, the basic science on how the sleep cycle works is well understood by medicine, and there are two (2) very important processes that are needed for quality sleep.

The first process is the natural production of adenosine in our bodies, which increases in our brain when we are awake and at peak levels, tells us it's time to sleep.

The second process is proper management of our circadian rhythm, more popular known as our body clock. This is where sleep masks have a positive impact, as the presence of light or not, is a key element that helps our circadian rhythm figure out if we should be asleep or awake. The presence of light of any sort - whether it’s natural or artificial from reading those messages late at night, or kids playing one more video game - scrambles our body clock. This light presence sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to be awake, even if the real time says otherwise. The mixed signal also reduces the production of melatonin, which is another important chemical needed in our bodies to induce sleep. It’s no coincidence why sometimes you may be lying in bed for 60 – 90 minutes rather than falling asleep quickly, as light interrupting the melatonin production cycle can delay the onset of sleep by this length of time. Another benefit of melatonin production is, the more of it we have in our bodies, the deeper, longer and better quality sleep we get.

Sleep masks do an excellent job of blocking out all light sources, allowing our bodies to naturally produce the melatonin needed to fall asleep quickly, and more importantly get a deep, restful, high quality sleep. 

The elimination of all light sources is absolutely critical, and it’s not just simply by closing our eyes, as doing so in a room with any light presence still stimulates the back of our retinas given our thin eyelids. To prove this, an interesting experiment was done in three (3) countries (Bolivia, Tanzania and Namibia), where scientists monitored the sleep patterns of several subjects compared to similar subjects in North America. And, even though the subjects in the three (3) countries slept slightly shorter hours, they fell asleep faster, and had a much better quality of sleep. This was because of the near pitch black sleep environment conditions in the three (3) countries, as opposed to conditions in North America, where there were many various sources of artificial light present in the rooms. Another published study which tested patients in simulated ICU units who wore earplugs and sleep masks, confirmed those patients got more deep, high quality sleep, and had increased melatonin levels, proving the importance of light source elimination to deep, quality sleep. This works in adults as well as kids

So the scientific results are clear, sleep masks are a cost effective way to significantly enhance your sleep. Fantastic news if you travel often, as they can help you combat the symptoms of jet lag at your hotel, as well as onboard your flight to eliminate aircraft cabin light. They are also a great sleep aid if you work unusual hours where you would be prone to natural body cycle disruption. Kids who desperately need to get better sleep can benefit as well.

 Are all Sleep Masks the same?

Like everything else though, there are always pros and cons, and now that we understand the benefits and science behind sleep masks, we need to know which type of sleep mask is the most effective. The key things you should always look for when selecting any sleep mask are:

  • Your mask blacks out 100% of the light when adjusted and placed on your head correctly
  • Has a 3-D design. This design type is more hygienic and avoids eye-lash rubbing
  • Is flexible, adjustable and molds to your face shape and contours
  • Has a strap system that allows for complete adjustment and good grip to ensure it never falls off when you sleep
  • Does not put pressure on your eyes to disrupt your deep sleep cycle
  • Is made from breathable, preferably natural fabric
  • One that is convenient and very easy to travel with
  • Comes with other sleep enhancing accessories e.g. Earplugs
  • Safe for kids if you are considering using for that purpose

A few sleep masks on common marketplaces, for example Amazon, have the above features.

In addition, there are two (2) other sleep mask types that you may come across, however, we recommend you consult your doctor first before purchasing any of these two other types. The first type is the weighted sleep mask. This type is much less popular and not recommended as your first purchase, because it does apply a slight pressure around your eye, and is best used only when recommended by your doctor. The weighted sleep mask weighs about 400 grams for best pressure distribution and production of a calming sensation across the face, and is usually made from fabric enclosing heavy foam or small beads to add weight. Some kids on the autism spectrum are prescribed with this type of sleep mask, because of the science around Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT). DPT distributes pressure across the face and sends comforting signals to the brain, as well as calms or improves moods. This is the same principle on which weighted blankets work. And as recommended, we suggest you consult your physician before considering this mask type purchase.

The second other sleep mask type is the charcoal filled sleep mask. Once again, we strongly recommend you consult your physician before purchasing this type of sleep mask. The charcoal sleep mask relieves eye pressure and reportedly promotes blood circulation while reducing headaches, due to the binchotan charcoal filling and the mask construction.

What are the side effects?

Okay, so besides the positives of sleep masks, what are some of the negatives or most asked questions and concerns around using them? Luckily, there are no side effects of using sleep masks, but one callout is to ensure that you use a device like an alarm clock to wake up when wearing your mask, as the natural waking sensation when morning light hits the back of the retina will be diminished. Some of the more common questions around wearing sleep masks include: Is there a possibility of acne, can they cause wrinkles or dark circles and will they damage my eyelashes? Wearing sleep masks will not promote acne breakouts, nor will they cause or accelerate the onset of wrinkles or dark circles. Also, the 3D designed masks do leave room around your eyelashes when in use, to avoid any pressure on the eyeball, as well as provide enough of a gap to prevent any eyelash disturbance.

Ready to give it a try?

So there you have it, a full explanation around the science and benefits of sleep masks. For more sleep quality information follow us on Facebook or Instagram. And if you you'd like to try a sleep mask, see our product here.

Happy sleeping from us at SpeciallyMe!

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