What are Eye Masks?

Michael Pollick

Eye masks, also known as sleep masks, are used primarily as room-darkening sleep aids or therapeutic tension relievers. Users position them for maximum comfort just before falling asleep. Some masks are designed to put a slight pressure on the sleeper's eyes, while others avoid eye contact entirely. Therapeutic masks may contain aromatic herbs such as chamomile or lavender, or special gel packs which are heated or cooled before use.

Eye masks may be used as sleep-aids to block out light while sleeping.
Eye masks may be used as sleep-aids to block out light while sleeping.

Intended as sleep aids, eye masks create the effect of total darkness, which fools the brain into converting serotonin (a hormone associated with wakefulness) to melatonin (a sleep-producing hormone). Natural darkness is a known trigger for this phenomenon, so masks duplicate the circumstance of sundown. Creating total darkness can be a very effective sleep aid for those on unusual sleeping cycles, reclining on outdoor hammocks, or traveling on airplanes.

An eye mask.
An eye mask.

Another common use for eye masks is tension reduction. Headache sufferers often use herbal or cold-pack masks to encourage the muscles around the head and neck to relax. Those prone to sinus headaches and stuffiness may also find heated ones provide effective relief. Herbs such as chamomile, lavender and peppermint have also been shown to create a feeling of well-being.

Eye masks create the effect of total darkness, which fools the brain into converting serotonin to melatonin.
Eye masks create the effect of total darkness, which fools the brain into converting serotonin to melatonin.

Not all eye masks are created equal. Consumers should try on various sizes and styles at the store before making any decisions. Some can shift positions if the sleeper prefers to sleep on his or her side or stomach. The mask area should fit snugly but comfortably around the wearer's eyes and nose without pinching or binding. The holding strap should feel comfortable around the head, not digging into the skin or allowing for too much slack.

Headache sufferers can use herbal or cold-pack masks to encourage muscles around the head and neck to relax.
Headache sufferers can use herbal or cold-pack masks to encourage muscles around the head and neck to relax.

Retail stores may offer a few eye masks in their health and beauty sections, but outlets that specialize in bed and body products usually have a wider selection. Decide if you need a sleep aid or a stress reducer or perhaps a combination. Some aromatherapy masks also work well as room-darkening sleep aids. These should be tested, as some level of outside light may still come through. Personalized eye masks are also available through mail order, and some models may feature fashionable designs or humorous logos.

Some eye masks place slight pressure on the user's eyes.
Some eye masks place slight pressure on the user's eyes.

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Discussion Comments

Renegade

Many other solutions exist for people suffering from sleep deprivation. I have found a helpful aid to be prayer and meditation. It naturally purges my thoughts of any anxiety the day may have brought, as well as concern for future events. This peace allows me to sleep in comfort, allowing tomorrow to take care of itself.

TrogJoe19

@BigBloom

This may be the case for you personally, but there are people like me who suffer from legitimately low melatonin levels and are unable to sleep well without some form of aid. I have been exhausted for a long time now, and have seen numerous sleep-consultants. My performance and emotional state would be better if I could get a solid night's sleep for once.

BigBloom

I have been able to sleep in the loud city night without any sleep aids for a long time now. At first, it was difficult, but I think you get used to it over time and exhaustion. Your brain adjusts to be able to sleep.

BioNerd

Sleep aids can be helpful when used sparingly, but like anything, when used dependently they may become addictive. It will be difficult to sleep without them (and possible even with them) if they are overused. For a while, I took melatonin to get sleep, and eventually I couldn't sleep without it. My melatonin levels have been slightly altered because of this, when I thought it was a "trustworthy" solution to my insomnia.

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