A staggering 36 years — that’s how much time humans spend in bed over their lifetime. That translates to a whopping 315,360 hours in bed!
Unfortunately, not all those hours go towards actually being asleep. For instance, as many as one in four people take more than half an hour to fall asleep. That’s on top of the one-third of people who reported waking up at night at least three times a week.
These are all symptoms of sleep disorders, including insomnia and sleep apnea.
If you’re one of the 50 million Americans who have a sleep disorder, a sleep mask can prove to be very helpful.
The question is, how exactly do sleeping masks work to enhance your slumber? How can they help you fall asleep and stay asleep?
We’ll answer all these questions in this post, so be sure to keep reading!
1. Masking out the Light Helps Trigger Increased Melatonin Production
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland found in the brain. Its primary role is to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles.
The amount of melatonin produced in your system depends on your circadian rhythm. This is your “biological clock” or “internal body clock”.
The amount of light that you get exposed to also influences melatonin production. Under normal conditions, the body starts to produce melatonin from the mid-to-late evening. In short, when the sun sets and your environment begins to darken.
As you sleep in the dark, your body continues to produce this hormone at elevated levels.
This production gradually ceases as the environment becomes illuminated with sunlight. The brighter it is, the less melatonin your body produces. You’ll then wake up once there’s a significant reduction in your melatonin levels.
The takeaway here is that the presence of light reduces the amount of melatonin produced by the body. Even if you turn off the lights in your bedroom, chances are, there’s still some light from the outside. Any amount of light, regardless of how low, can put your hormones out of balance.
By wearing a high-quality sleeping mask, you can block out all these intrusive lights. This then sets the perfect environment for your brain to generate melatonin. With more melatonin in your system, you have a lower risk of suffering from sleep disorders.
In fact, one study confirmed this effect of sleep masks in ICU patients who also used earplugs. The researchers noted how these sleeping aids promoted sleep and balanced hormones.
2. Wearing a Sleep Mask Can Help You Get to Sleep Faster
Melatonin also has relaxing effects on the body. It does so by binding to certain receptors in your body to induce relaxation.
For example, melatonin binds to brain receptors that regulate nerve activity. In this way, it helps ease and calm your nerves so that you don’t feel “restless”. As a result, you may find it easier to fall asleep.
In addition, melatonin helps lower the dopamine levels in your system, such as those in your eyes. As beneficial as dopamine is, it’s a hormone that affects your wakefulness. By cutting back on this hormone, you’ll feel sleepier, which may help you get to sleep faster.
Since the best eye mask for sleeping can boost melatonin, then it may also make you fall asleep faster.
You may also want to get a weighted blanket to add to your arsenal of sleeping tools. Weighted blankets can benefit you through a technique called “deep touch pressure”. This technique also triggers hormonal production, although the hormone produced is serotonin.
In any case, consider pairing up your sleep mask with a weighted blanket. This way, you can further improve the overall quality of your sleep.
3. More Melatonin Can Prevent You From Waking up at Night
If you suffer from sleep disturbances, boosting your melatonin levels may help. Research has found that melatonin helps boost the length of sleeping time. In addition, this hormone cuts back the time that one needs to fall asleep.
Again, sleep masks promote increased melatonin production by reducing your exposure to light. In this way, they can help you stay asleep longer. Studies, like this one, confirm that eye masks do reduce long awakenings at night.
Also, wearing a sleep mask throughout the night can help protect you from a sudden flood of light. This can happen when you turn to the side where there’s a window with sunlight streaming in. This can also happen when someone turns on the light in your room.
4. Sleeping Masks Can Help Fight the Symptoms of Insomnia
The longer you put off addressing sleep problems, the more at risk you are of developing insomnia. You may only be having a hard time falling asleep now, but with insomnia, you may also find it hard to stay asleep. Insomnia can also drastically reduce your total sleep time.
This is why the best sleeping masks also work as a great preventative measure for insomnia. The perfect sleep conditions they create can help you combat sleep issues early on.
5. Sleeping Masks Can Help Increase REM Sleep Time
REM stands for rapid eye movement. REM sleep is one of the five phases of sleep that all humans go through. Under normal conditions, REM sleep occurs within 90 minutes from falling asleep.
As you sleep, you will enter the REM phase several times. The first REM period lasts 10 minutes, with each succeeding period becoming longer. The final period usually lasts up to one hour.
Interestingly, the brain becomes almost as active as it is during the day during the REM phase. Your heart rate also goes up to levels that are almost the same as when you’re awake. It’s also during this sleep phase when vivid dreams usually happen.
According to experts, REM sleep affects a person’s learning capacity and memory. It also plays a role in mood and behaviors. Moreover, REM sleep appears to help in the development of the brain in infants.
As such, a lack of REM sleep may have negative effects on your physical and psychological health. In children, this can cause learning and development problems.
Fortunately, research has found sleep masks to help preserve REM sleep. Sleeping masks not only increased REM sleep time but also decreased REM latency.
6. Sleep Masks Can Help Decrease Your Wakefulness
Speaking of sleep phases, the first stage of sleep is when you’re still in a state of wakefulness. You’re still transitioning from being awake to becoming sleepy to finally falling asleep.
This transition may take longer if there’s any light present. In short, you’ll find it harder to switch your body from being awake to feeling sleepy.
Help your brain and body out by immersing it in complete darkness. Blocking out the lights with a sleep mask can help reduce your wakefulness. By being “less awake”, you can transition faster to falling asleep.
7. They Block out Harmful Blue Light
The sun isn’t the only source of “blue light” — your phone, tablet, and even your LED lamp also produce this light. While this type of light is fine during the day, it can have severe effects on your sleep. One way it does so is by reducing the amount of melatonin that your body produces.
One study found that blue light suppressed melatonin for twice as long as the green light. The researchers also said that blue light caused the circadian rhythm to shift twice as much.
Another study found that all artificial lights interrupt normal sleep patterns. These include LED lights, which are also a source of blue light. The researchers also noted that room light at night suppressed melatonin in 85% of trials.
The best way to avoid the harmful effects of blue light is to reduce your use of gadgets that use this type of light. As much as possible, avoid using your phone or tablet at least two hours before you go to bed. This way, your eyes can rest and your brain gets less exposure to blue light.
The best sleep mask can make it even easier for your brain to switch to sleep mode. The sooner you slip on the mask, the sooner your pineal gland can start producing melatonin.
All These Benefits Allow for Improved Sleep Quality
In a nutshell, a sleep mask can help improve all aspects of your sleep. It can help you feel sleepy, fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer. It can also help reduce instances of sleep disturbances.
All in all, the best sleep mask can improve the overall quality of your sleep. Better sleep means better health, which is why you should start using sleeping masks ASAP.
Ready for more life pro tips that can help improve your sleep quality? Then be sure to check out this guide we have on weighted blankets for adults!