In their basic form, sleep masks help block light that can prevent sleep or reduce its quality. Some models might offer limited additional benefits.

Light plays an important role in sleep. A person’s body naturally responds to light levels during the day and evening.

Sleep masks that cover the eyes help keep the light out when a person is falling asleep and prevent it from waking them before they are ready to get up for the day.

This article looks at:

  • the benefits of sleep masks
  • types of sleep masks
  • whether sleep masks are good for skin
  • alternatives to masks to help people sleep
  • when to speak with a doctor about sleep issues

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The primary purpose of sleep masks is to block out light.

Changes in light throughout the day play an important role in alertness, sleep, and the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm involves mental, physical, and behavioral changes that occur throughout the course of 24 hours. It is sensitive to both light and dark.

The highest sensitivity levels to light occur about 2 hours before a person’s normal bedtime and about 1 hour after waking. During this time, exposure to light can alter a person’s circadian rhythm and affect their ability to fall or stay asleep.

The presence of light during the night, including light coming from electronic devices, can hamper sleep. Sleep masks can help a person fall asleep by blocking out light that would otherwise interfere with sleep.

In the morning, sleep masks can also help block light that may wake a person up before they are sufficiently rested and ready to get up.

Some studies have shown the effectiveness of sleep masks on sleep. In a 2017 study involving 1,379 people in an intensive care unit (ICU), the combination of a sleep mask and earplugs helped shut out enough light and sound to improve sleep quality.

In a 2021 review, researchers looked at 35 quality studies on sleep masks and earplugs for people in ICU who were critically ill. They also found positive results for their use across the majority of studies.

A wide variety of sleep mask options is available. Some come as part of a combination pack, which may include earplugs or other sleep-related products.

Sleep masks can vary in several ways, including their:

  • materials
  • heating or cooling effects
  • weight
  • texture and comfort

Some common options that a person can often find online or at their local pharmacy include:

  • cushioned or plush masks
  • gel
  • cooling or heating masks
  • weighted masks
  • basic cloth masks

Quality studies on sleep masks and benefits are generally lacking, and none look at the potential benefits of the different types of masks available for sale. As a result, the possible benefits associated with cooling, heated, weighted, or other mask types are largely anecdotal.

A person may, therefore, need to try different masks to find the one that works best for them.

It is not likely that sleep masks will provide any specific benefits for the skin, but they are unlikely to do much harm.

Studies on sleep masks primarily focus on their effects on the quality of sleep and the ability to fall asleep, rather than whether they provide any benefit to the skin.

However, some things that a person may want to keep in mind to minimize the risk to their skin include:

  • keeping their mask clean and free of oil or debris
  • choosing a fabric option that has some breathability
  • avoiding placing frozen or hot masks directly against the skin

By keeping the mask clean, a person can help avoid trapping oil or dirt on their skin. This may help prevent acne from forming. Not applying a cold or hot mask directly to the skin can help prevent frostbite or burns.

Sleep masks help a person fall asleep by blocking light.

A person can achieve similar results by wrapping a light towel or t-shirt loosely around their eyes and head. However, this might not be a good solution for people who frequently move during their sleep, as it can come off. A person should make sure not to overtighten it, though.

Another option is to keep the room dark and cool by using blackout curtains and removing electronic devices.

A person can also use other techniques to improve their overall sleep hygiene. These include:

  • sticking to a consistent bedtime
  • limiting caffeine, large meals, and alcohol before bedtime
  • exercising regularly during the day

In some cases, a person may know that light is the issue affecting their sleep. They should find that removing sources of light, such as by using blackout curtains, sleep masks, or a combination, leads to an improvement in their sleep.

However, if a person takes these and other steps to improve their sleep hygiene and still does not get a restful night of sleep, they should speak with a doctor, Anyone who consistently feels tired during the day or shows other signs of insufficient or low quality sleep should seek medical advice.

A doctor may be able to help determine what might be causing a person’s poor sleep quality and recommend ways to fix it.

Eye masks may help a person fall asleep and stay asleep by blocking light.

People can choose from a range of options, and they may wish to try a few different options to see which works best for them.

In addition to sleep masks, a person can improve their sleep by making some basic lifestyle changes, such as removing electronic devices from the bedroom, avoiding caffeine later in the evening, and using blackout curtains.