Many people who are bothered by light at night find an eye mask very helpful. They can be particularly useful when traveling or if you find yourself sharing a bed with a partner who is afraid of the dark. Eye masks can also be a great tool for power nappers and shift workers who need to sleep during the day.
Fundamentally, masks will block visual stimuli, minimizing sleep disturbance caused by light. However, whilst a sleeping mask might limit light disturbance, it will not address a wide range of other potential sleep disturbances, nor the psychological causes of poor sleep.
Why use a sleeping mask?
According to the Great British Sleep Survey, 19% of those surveyed reported being disturbed by light levels before or during sleep.
Light can have a huge impact on our sleep-wake cycle as we have specialized cells in our eyes that respond to light waves and send signals back to the part of our brain which controls our body clock. It is, therefore, a good idea to keep your sleeping environment dark. Indeed, research has shown that leaving the bedroom light on during the sleep period can significantly delay the timing and peak secretion of melatonin during the night.
Exposure to darkness at night and light during the day, helps to keep our body clock on the 24-hr rhythm most of us need to live our lives. Often, it is not necessary to have a bedroom pitch-black and most good sleepers can sleep with some light coming through the curtains or under the door.
Of course there are individual differences in what people prefer, and sometimes people do prefer a very dark bedroom – our advice would be to experiment a little to see if a sleep mask can help you!
Lastly, research has shown that using a sleeping mask can improve one's sleep during a hospital stay, where one's sleep is all too easily disturbed.
Types of eye masks for sleeping
There are a whole range of eye masks available today – from the most basic fabric ones to those that can be heated or cooled. Why not try out a few and see if they could help you improve your sleep?
Richardson, A., Allsop, M., Coghill, E., Turnock, C. (2007). Earplugs and eye masks: do they improve critical care patients' sleep? Nursing in Critical Care, 12(6), 278-286.