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What you do right before bed can have a large impact on your sleep quality and duration. The same can be said for what you wear and sleep on — everything from the type of alarm clock you use to the type of pillow case you rest your head on can influence your sleep-wake cycle.
There are many products you can invest in for a better night’s sleep, but if you are often kept awake (or woken up) by light, you might want to consider a sleep mask. These masks are designed to create an ideal pitch black sleeping environment regardless of where you are or the time of day, which helps your body produce melatonin and fall into a deep slumber. We spoke to experts about the benefits of sleep masks for the sleep-wake cycle, plus used their shopping advice to round up some top-rated options on top of their own recommendations.
Top-rated sleep masks in 2021
Seema Khosla, MD, medical director at the North Dakota Center for Sleep, recommended this face mask, noting that it has memory foam padding around the eyes for comfort and breathability. The fully adjustable mask also uses an elastic strap, which is far less likely to get caught in your hair or disrupt your sleep than a Velcro one. The mask, which comes in a pack of three, has a 4.5-star average rating from more than 18,100 reviews on Amazon.
Khosla recommended the Hibermate Sleep Mask for especially light sleepers since it blocks both light and sound with integrated, removable ear muffs. The mask itself is machine-washable and fits to your head with adjustable elastic bands. According to the brand, the material is hypoallergenic and stays cool during the summer months.
Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist and a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, said he personally uses this machine-washable sleep mask from Dream Essentials. It’s especially useful if you travel often — it comes with a carrying pouch as well as ear plugs. The mask has a fully adjustable elastic strap with a range of 18 inches to 28.5 inches and the eye cavities are padded with memory foam that leaves room for your eyes to move around.
Shopping writer Ambar Pardilla bought the Slip Pure Silk Sleep Mask after several bouts of insomnia and said that after a few nights of using it, she was “snoozing off within minutes of sliding the mask on.” The mask, which is made from machine-washable and non-irritating silk, stays put with an elastic band. According to the brand, the silk mask won’t disturb your nighttime creams and facial products, nor will it put pressure on the area around your eyes.
Another silk eye mask option, this mask from Brooklinen is breathable, machine-washable and lightweight. It uses an elastic band wrapped in the same mulberry silk fabric and comes in several colors, including Dove Grey and Cerulean. The mask boasts a 4.8-star average rating from more than 400 Brooklinen shoppers.
Sleep mask benefits
Sleep masks are designed to keep light out of your eyes during the night and into the morning as the sun rises. According to Christopher Winter, MD, a neurologist and author of “The Sleep Solution,” this is “a proven way to improve sleep quality and amount.” In one Korean study published in “Psychiatry Investigation,” for instance, exposure to dim light during the sleep cycle was associated with decreased total sleep time and a harder time falling asleep.
Virtually any bedroom can be exposed to either artificial or natural light so long as it has windows, which means sleep masks can be a useful sleep tool for almost anyone. However, Khosla noted that some people might benefit from a sleep mask more than others due to their circumstances, like shift workers who sleep during the day and individuals whose spouses watch TV while they’re trying to go to bed. “Anyone who is bothered by light in their sleep space [can use one],” she added.
How to shop for a sleep mask
When choosing a sleep mask, Winter noted that “comfort is key.” He said that you want to look for a mask that’s tight enough to fit properly but “does not create discomfort as the night progresses.”
According to Shelby Harris, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist who is board-certified in Behavioral Sleep Medicine (BSM), silk and sateen are good materials to look for in a face mask. In our guide to the best bedding for your skin, dermatologists told us that silk in particular is less irritating for sensitive skin. Experts also noted that padding — especially around the bridge of the nose — ensures a comfortable and secure fit. Masks with a cupped shape around the eyes are good since they “do not put pressure on the eyeballs,” Winter added.
Some sleep masks come with adjustable Velcro straps, which makes it easier to fit the mask comfortably around the head. However, Khosla warned that if you have longer hair, it can get stuck in these Velcro straps. If you are a back sleeper, masks with ties or elastics in the back can also be disagreeable since they “create an uncomfortable lump.”
Since sleep masks sit on your face for several hours a night, it’s preferable to buy one that’s machine-washable. “There’s no way I would wear a sleep mask that wasn’t able to be laundered,” Khosla noted.