We’ve all asked ourselves how we can get a better night's sleep at one point or another. There's no straightforward answer, so naturally, everyone has their own approach. For some people, it's all about having your room at the perfect temperature. Others swear by layering on weighted blankets to reduce anxiety. And of course, you can also try a classic: slipping on an eye mask. This option happens to look super chic, because who doesn’t want to channel their inner Blair Waldorf? But believe it or not, there are actual advantages beyond the aesthetics.
Before we dive into the benefits, you should know a few things before picking out your eye mask of choice, starting with fabric. “Stick to natural fibers like silk, which have been shown at a microscopic level to be softer and gentler on the skin barrier and try to avoid synthetics like polyester,” says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. That being said, don’t forget to clean your eye mask regularly—it's up against your face all night, after all. “Just like any garment that comes in direct contact with the skin, it needs to be washed regularly,” Zeichner tells us. “You may need to wash the mask daily, especially if you did not wash your face before bed or if there is heavy sweating.”
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
- David Rubin is a certified sleep science coach and the director of product testing at The Sleep Doctor.
You also will want to find the right fit. “Before you buy a sleep mask, consider where the strap will hit, your sleep position, and the relative size you need,” says certified sleep science coach David Rubin. “If you have sensitive ears or are a side sleeper, look for a mask with a strap that hits above the ears to avoid added pressure. If you switch positions while sleeping, you'll want a mask with a tighter-fitting, more adjustable strap.” And once you find a good sleep mask for you, be careful not to tie it too tight, as Zeichner warns this can lead to wrinkling and skin trauma.
Ahead, Zeichner and Rubin tell us all about the main benefits of sleeping with an eye mask. Warning: We can’t stop you (or blame you) if you feel the need to buy an eye mask for every day of the week.
Protects Skin While You Sleep
When we toss and turn at night, we're actually rubbing against our pillows, sheets, and blankets. Wearing an eye mask can act almost like a protective layer to avoid any skin damage from the friction. “When we sleep, there are frictional forces between our skin and our sheets,” Zeichner explains. “This means that there can be rubbing of the skin against the sheets, which leads to skin barrier disruption and inflammation. There also can be physical folding of the skin, which contributes to wrinkling.” Remember, the skin around our eyes is very delicate, so you should treat it as such.
May Reduce Anxiety or Tension
If you tend to hold tension in your face or are prone to headaches or migraines, certain eye masks can help alleviate your symptoms. “A weighted eye mask usually contains small microbeads that offer a compression that some people find comforting as they settle into sleep,” Rubin says. “These masks apply light pressure to your face, which can be helpful for tension around the eyes as well as nighttime headaches or migraines.”
Improves Your Sleep on the Go
No matter how much you plan or try to adjust to a new schedule while traveling, uninterrupted sleep is hard to come by on the go. Eye masks can offer a sense of normalcy and more sound sleep in new environments. “Since sleep masks are portable and can be used on a plane, they [lead to] better sleep while traveling,” Rubin says.
Helps Reduce Puffiness
The cliché sign of being up all night is a puffy face and dark circles, but what if we said there’s an eye mask for that? “Weighted eye masks apply physical pressure to the skin under the eyes and remove excess fluid that contributes to puffiness,” Zeichner says. “This may improve dark circles to some degree, so long as they are the results of puffiness.” He also notes that cooling eye masks can also help depuff by constricting blood vessels.
May Increase Your REM Sleep
“Eye masks can provide total darkness, which generally improves overall sleep since you’re not bothered by external light,” Rubin tells us. He notes that less nighttime interruptions means you are likely to get more REM sleep, which The National Sleep Foundation defines as the stage of sleep where most of our dreaming takes place, accounting for about 25% of our sleep time. REM is so important because it stimulates the areas of the brain that deal with learning and memory.
Provides Complete Darkness Anywhere
There's nothing worse than your surroundings preventing you from getting enough sleep. If you're sensitive to your environment, eye masks can provide some relief. “The first thing you should look for is a mask that provides as close to blackout conditions as possible,” Rubin says. “The idea is to eliminate any distractions.”
Allows the Skin Barrier to Heal
According to Zeichner, our skin uses sleep as an opportunity to heal itself from damage it may have experienced during the day. This means getting a full night's rest actually does have aesthetic benefits. “When your mom said to get your beauty sleep, she was right,” Zeichner says. “When you don’t sleep, cortisol levels remain high, which can interfere with wound healing, contribute to skin barrier disruption, and even lead to acne breakouts. This translates to skin inflammation and premature aging.” You bet we'll be slipping on our eye masks for some extra beauty sleep.