Sleep Mask Benefits: Why You Should Wear One to Bed

Sleep masks can be an effective way to block out light and promote better sleep, especially in disruptive environments like airplanes. A study found that using sleep masks and earplugs resulted in more REM sleep, shorter REM latency, and elevated melatonin levels. However, for long-term light management at home, blackout shades or curtains may be a better option. When choosing a sleep mask, comfort and fit are important factors to consider. There are different types of sleep masks available, including standard, contoured, "smart," and weighted masks.

The dreaded long-haul flight: engine noise, cramped seats, turbulence, cabin lights. We’ve all been there. How can anyone sleep in that environment? The key is to filter out as many disturbances as possible.

Headphones or earplugs take care of the sounds, but light can be just as disruptive to peaceful sleep. Many people, whether traveling or at home, use sleep masks to block unwanted light. But does simply covering your eyes actually help you get better sleep? Let’s find out.

Sleep mask benefits

At least one study suggests that sleep masks might help promote better sleep in otherwise inhospitable situations. Researchers in China re-created an intensive care unit and gave several volunteers sleep masks, earplugs, and melatonin to see which was the most effective sleep aid.

Participants spent one peaceful night in darkness and silence, then researchers turned on the lights and pumped up the volume. As you might expect, subjects had a harder time sleeping: their melatonin levels were lower, and they reported increased anxiety as well as poor quality of rest.

Next, the subjects tried sleeping with sleep masks and earplugs. According to the authors, “use of earplugs and eye masks resulted in more REM time, shorter REM latency, less arousal…and elevated melatonin levels.” People were getting to sleep faster, waking up less, and had healthier sleep hormone levels.

Participants mostly found the earplugs to be effective but uncomfortable, whereas they considered the sleep masks “comfortable, helpful and easy to use.” The melatonin was even more effective, but taking sleep supplements carries risks of its own.

When to use a sleep mask

Sleep masks are an easy fix when there is no other way to block disruptive light. Like patients in an ICU, passengers on a plane have no control over their environment, so a sleep mask is a great way to simulate darkness without exerting too much effort. Sleep masks are also highly portable and machine washable, so they’re perfect for travel.

When it comes to sleeping at home, however, you might want to consider other solutions. As Dr. Nitun Verma, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, told Wirecutter, sleep masks can be a great way of testing whether light is a disruptive factor for you.

If you try one at home and get a better night’s sleep, that’s a sign that you might benefit from a more permanent approach to light management. Like earplugs, sleep masks are uncomfortable for some people, plus they can slip or fall off during the night. Blackout shades or curtains are a better long-term strategy.

What to look for in a sleep mask

You might be tempted to choose style over function, but the most important thing about a sleep mask is that it’s comfortable and fits well while blocking as much light as possible. The sleep mask should also be soft, so it doesn’t irritate your skin, with a nose gap that works with your face shape.

You want one that is machine-washable and has an adjustable strap—if possible, one that doesn’t use velcro, which can get stuck in your hair.

Types of sleep masks

There are four main types of sleep masks, each with its own benefits and drawbacks:

Standard (flat) sleep masks

The most common type of sleep mask, this is basically a flat strip of fabric (usually cotton or silk), sometimes stuffed with padding or foam.

Flat sleep masks are widely available, cheap, and usually stay put throughout the night. They work for all sleep positions, but they can put pressure on your eyes, which some people find uncomfortable.

Contoured sleep masks

These sleep masks feature molded indentations around the eyes, to minimize contact and give you room to blink. They make you look a little bug-eyed, but many people find the extra space preferable to the pressure of a standard sleep mask.

A contoured mask is less useful for side-sleepers, however, since its molded shape flattens out when compressed.

“Smart” sleep masks

Smart sleep masks are relatively new, but already generating a lot of hype in the sleep industry. In addition to blocking out light, they also incorporate several other features, including white noise tracks and pulsing LEDs to simulate natural light.

Smart sleep masks promise to use scientific research and machine learning to improve our sleep, but their claims are largely untested. Plus, all of those features can make for a bulky—and costly—apparatus.

Weighed sleep masks

Weighted sleep masks contain weighted material, such as microbeads or sand. They’re typically made with a soft fabric like silk or satin and weigh a little over half a pound.

Anecdotal evidence suggests weighted eye masks can help evoke a sense of calm and safety. The gentle pressure their weight provides may be able to alleviate some anxiety and make it easier for you to fall asleep.

Our best eye masks to help you sleep better

Silk Eye Mask

Drift into dreamland with our sleep-enhancing eye mask made of the finest quality mulberry silk. It keeps light out for more uninterrupted sleep—no matter where you are.

Weighted Silk Eye Mask

Drift into dreamland with our sleep-enhancing weighted eye mask made of the finest quality mulberry silk. It blocks out light for more restful sleep as it gives your eyes the calming, therapeutic effect of deep pressure stimulation.

Shop Saatva’s selection of sleep masks

Saatva sells a variety of sleep masks that block out light to help you sleep better.


silk eye mask
saatva silk eye mask
Silk Eye Mask

Blocks out light for restful sleep while protecting the delicate skin around the eyes

is made of pure mulberry silk that is durable, smooth, and soothing to the skin. Our

weighted silk eye mask
saatva weighted silk eye mask
Weighted Silk Eye Mask

Like a calming, sleep-enhancing weighted blanket for tired eyes

is also made of pure mulberry silk and is filled with glass beads that are natural, odorless, and hypoallergenic.

Both of our eye masks can help signal your brain that it’s time for sleep so you can catch those Z’s.

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