Eye Masks Unmasked
January 22, 2021
Author: Lauren Baer
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been on a journey to optimize my sleep. I’ve gone from practical insomniac to sleeping an average of eight hours. My sleep journey has been punctuated by new additions to my sleep-enhancing arsenal, the most prominent of which was an eye mask.
To begin with, I eschewed this addition because I was adamant that I couldn’t sleep with something on my face. Turns out I was horribly wrong. Fast forward to now, and I’m the proud owner of no fewer than six sleep masks. They vary in many ways, and I do have a favorite, so being the connoisseur that I am, I’m going to break down what you should consider in a sleep mask if you’re looking to improve your sleep.
My first sleep mask was a poly/cotton blend with a knit exterior. It was the kind that comes in a gift set with a pair of slippers at Christmas. It’s simple and soft and if the strap wasn’t so stretched out I’d probably still use it as more than a backup. However, since delving into the depths of eye mask obsession, it’s become apparent that silk rules the roost when it comes to material. Supposedly silk is gentlest on your skin, has natural moisturizing qualities, and sleeps cool. My most commonly used mask now is a plain black silky one. The only issue I ever have is the silk is kind of slippery so sometimes it’s not still on my face when I wake up.
This may be a strange consideration to take but bear with me! Not all masks are a soft, flat-on-the-face shape. Many mask aficionados don’t like the feel of something laying on the eyelids. If that sounds like you, then perhaps consider a shaped mask. They make you look like a fly, but you’ll wake up feeling fly because of all the amazing sleep. I wouldn’t recommend these if you’re a front or side sleeper, because the molding isn’t completely rigid. If it gets squashed inward, that’ll be pretty uncomfortable on the eyeballs. If you’re mainly looking for a mask for travel, though, this could be a lightweight breathable option.
Adjustability / Strap
Taking a break from the mask itself, the strap is a much more important consideration than one might expect. Too tight? Uncomfortable. Too loose? Doesn’t adequately block out light, or falls down altogether. Most non-adjustable masks have nice stretchy elastic, but that will eventually stretch out and become too loose—as evidenced by my first ever sleep mask, RIP. Adjustability is arguably the little red riding hood perfect fit, but means of adjustability is crucial too.
A warning to people with hair: think twice about velcro. Many adjustable masks are secured with velcro and I personally find that no matter what I do, my hair ends up tangled in it. My preference is for a sliding adjustment on the strap. If you have short or no hair, the world of velcro straps will open up options for you.
Let’s dive into some of the features of an eye mask that impact sleep, rather than comfort. Light blocking is really the core purpose of a mask. Light affects our circadian rhythms, which are centric to sleep patterns. If your environment is too bright, it’s going to be harder to sleep. This is why sleep masks have become the quintessential accessory for travel, and can be pivotal in avoiding (or at least decreasing) jetlag. The easiest way to ensure your mask has adequate light blocking is to ensure good fit and coverage, like this Lunya mask, but some go a step further. The unusual-looking manta mask, for example, guarantees 100% blackout.
On the opposite end of the light spectrum, Lumos have a light therapy mask that (paired with an app) is especially helpful for jetlag, and Sound Oasis has one which blocks all external light but uses blue light therapy to put you into a deeper sleep. So whether you want zero light or light assistance, there’s a mask for you.
Ok, so we talked about lightweight masks and masks that barely touch your face, but on the flip side, we have weighted masks. Like a little weighted blanket for your face, these are purported to have a whole swath of benefits.
The compression supposedly helps with puffiness, and the weight (the ones I’ve seen are around 1lb) triggers your pressure points. Because of the weight, these are generally very good at light filtering, but not ideal for those who like the mask to stay off the eyelids. These will squash eyelash extensions. Although I haven’t actually tried a weighted mask, I’d imagine they wouldn’t be great for travel. They’re heavier, bulkier, and unless you’re in a lie-flat bed in first class, I could see it drooping. For home, however, this screams cozy.
Whether you’re a ‘cold side of the pillow’ person or a heated blanket person, you’re going to have a preference for mask temperature. Luckily there are cooling gel eye masks, electric cooling, and heating masks, microwavable heat masks, and more to choose from. Personally, I don’t love the idea of sleeping with electricity on my face, but the refrigerated cooling masks double up excellently for headache relief, and the heated ones are great for dry or tired eyes.
If you’re looking to keep it simple and just own one sleep mask, the heat factor will mostly come from the material and weight you choose. Silk is cooler and lighter, cotton with padding is middling (and like a pillow for your face), plush and wool options are obviously hotter. I will note that I do not recommend neoprene unless you like to have a sweaty face.
If you’ve made it to the end of this mask epic, congrats! I’m glad that someone else is now benefitting from my excessive mask analysis. Now go find your perfect sleep mask and get some rest.