What you wear and don’t wear to bed could affect how well you rest. And it’s important to catch your Zzz’s: Health Canada’s official recommendation is that everybody aims to get at least seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night.
While individual needs vary, the world’s largest sleep study supports this general guideline. Research in the journal Sleep found that people who consistently hit this range of sleep duration have healthier brain function than those who get less-or even more-sleep. But it’s not just about the amount of time in bed you clock each night. Quality of sleep is just as important, says Li Åslund, PhD, a sleep expert with the sleep-tracking tool Sleep Cycle.
Åslund explains that for adults, high-quality deep sleep includes:
falling asleep in less than 30 minutes
waking up only once per night
staying awake for no more than 20 minutes
sleeping more than 85 percent of the time spent in bed
High-quality sleep is essential for both your physical and mental well-being. A good night’s sleep improves learning ability, decision-making, and even mood. It also reduces the risk of chronic disease, helps us maintain a healthy weight, and supports better immunity.
Chelsie Rohrscheib, PhD, a neuroscientist and sleep specialist with the sleep-tracking tool Wesper, explains that quality of sleep depends on our brains spending enough time in each of the four sleep stages. “You’ll know when you’ve achieved high-quality sleep because you’ll feel refreshed and alert during the day,” she says.
Rohrscheib says light pollution in the bedroom is a common contributing factor to poor sleep quality. That’s because light affects our circadian rhythm, the internal biological clock that regulates when you’re asleep and awake. “Our brain is programmed to keep us awake when our eyes are stimulated by light,” she explains. That’s why blocking light out with a dedicated sleep mask can be a great tool to promote higher-quality sleep.
“[Sleep masks] can also be a cue to sleep,” says Ellen Wermter, a spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council and a board-certified family nurse practitioner. “Your brain anticipates sleep and begins to slow down, relax, and go into sleep mode when you put the mask on because it’s become a part of your bedtime routine.”
“I always say the best sleep mask is the one that feels most comfortable to you,” Rohrscheib says. “The last thing you need is to start using a sleep mask that further disturbs your sleep.” Still, there are a few design features to consider based on your personal preference and sleeping needs.
“Some people prefer the light, silk sleep masks that place minimum pressure on your face, while others prefer the heavier memory-foam masks that fit snugly against your eyes and nose,” Rohrscheib says.
Sleep masks should have soft, breathable material. If the fabric is too heavy, it can make your face uncomfortably hot and trap sweat overnight. Again, the right choice for you is a matter of your preference and needs. Natural materials like silk work well if you don’t have to deal with much light pollution and find more fitted masks uncomfortable, Rohrscheib says.
But because it’s so lightweight, silk might not work well for people who move around a lot in their sleep, as it can slip off your face, says Logan Foley, a certified sleep science coach from the Sleep Foundation. “If you have allergies, you may want to seek out a mask made from synthetic materials,” she adds.
There are different types of mask straps available as well. Some people prefer easily adjustable Velcro models-but if you have longer hair, opting for a low-profile buckle clasp can help reduce tangling.
With the right fit, lightweight sleep masks effectively block out ambient light while making it feel like you’re not even wearing anything. However, some people may benefit from using a mask with a bit more weight behind it.
Rohrscheib says people who experience bedtime stress and anxiety should try a weighted eye mask that applies gentle pressure. That’s because this “deep touch pressure” has been shown to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which plays a role in helping us relax and de-stress, according to a study from the Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering. It’s the same reasoning behind weighted blankets for better sleep.
“From my personal experience, it’s important to note that it may take some shopping around to find the perfect sleep mask for you,” Rohrscheib says. And she says to make sure you wash your mask at least once a week to prevent skin problems and potential infections. If you’re having trouble getting quality shut-eye, here are eight of the top-rated eye masks that can help whisk you off to sleep each night.
This lightweight Alaska Bear mask is 100 percent natural mulberry silk, hypoallergenic, and very breathable. “Silk has the added benefit of being less irritating in general for those who have skin issues,” Rohrscheib says. The mask is slightly larger than other fabric models, designed to reduce gaps around the nose and cheek areas where light can sneak through. It also stands out for its unique strap design. Rather than using Velcro or a buckle clasp, the Alaska Bear mask band adjusts like a bra strap, sliding securely for the perfect fit.
The Lunya sleep mask is made of light, breathable cotton (though there’s a silk version available as well) with thin, plush padding that blocks out light. But the band isn’t adjustable-so it has a “one size fits most” fit. Lunya recommends its mask for people with heads 23 to 26 inches around. That said, the mask’s 3-inch band is wider than most, helping it to comfortably stay in place without any awkward pressure points. It also covers your ears for slight noise muffling.
Weighted sleep masks offer the same light-blocking benefits as lightweight varieties, but the extra bit of pressure can help get you in the right state of mind for a night of restorative sleep. “This pressure has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the stress response and increase relaxation,” Rohrscheib says. This Nodpod weighted eye mask distributes this calming weight-about 10 ounces-evenly across your face. It’s also a bit more multipurpose than other masks. There’s a warm, microfiber fleece on one side and a cooling cotton lining on the other. You can even toss it in the freezer to help reduce eye puffiness.
The Manta Sleep Mask is another option with an eyecup design-but the doughnut-shaped cups are moveable, making it ideal for people who struggle to find the perfect fit. But because this eye padding is a bit on the thicker side, it’s considered best for people who sleep on their back.
The mask also has adjustable Velcro straps lined with a thin strip of silicone, which works to keep it in position without slipping during the night.
This satin-padded Sleep Master mask wraps completely around your head, effectively blocking out light while muffling ambient sounds. Because it lies flat, it’s great for stomach or side sleepers who wrestle to get comfortable in masks with bulkier eyecups. And the mask has a high V-shaped opening for your nose that reduces gaps where light can get in, even if you have a more prominent bridge. Still, while the satin is soft, it’s not the most breathable fabric. So if you run hot overnight or sleep in a warmer environment, this mask might trap too much heat for comfort.
Made of a soft, jersey material, the Mavogel sleep mask is light and slim for a “barely there” feel as you sleep. But the mask’s defining feature is its adjustable nose wire, which lets you mold the fit perfectly to your face to form a perfect seal. This nose wire doesn’t just help block out light. It helps keep the mask in place no matter how you sleep-whether on your back, side, stomach, or tossing and turning between positions.