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Are sleep masks really helpful? Experts share what you need to know

Block light and sleep comfortably with these effective eye masks.
Courtesy Fran Sales / Jannely Espinal

If you're like me, any remnant of light will interrupt your sleep and rush you out of bed to rectify the bright situation. But once I started incorporating a sleep mask into my bedtime routine, my hours of insomnia have cut back and have made my dream sessions total bliss.

According to the Sleep Foundation, eliminating light disruptions can help you get uninterrupted sleep and promote proper alignment of your circadian rhythm. You can also improve melatonin production when you dim the lights, ultimately helping regulate your circadian rhythm.

If you're a light sleeper like me, extra assistance from a sleep mask may be necessary to block lingering brightness. Shop TODAY talked to some experts to find out the pros and cons of the popular sleep product, plus a few options to keep you well-rested while snoozing the night away.

Can a sleep mask improve my sleep hygiene? | Pros and cons of sleep masks | Washing tips | Best material for sleep masks | Sleep masks to shop | Meet the experts

Can a sleep mask improve my sleep hygiene?

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian, sleep masks can improve sleep hygiene over time. "Both the slight pressure and the full blocking of light can allow for more restful, uninterrupted sleep," she says. "Small amounts of light can be quite disturbing to sleep, and a sleep mask is an easy, inexpensive way to improve the quality of sleep."

Not only does it signal your body that it's time to shut off, but it also gives you the comfort of darkness while making your body feel more relaxed.

Pros and cons of sleep masks

According to sleep expert Janet Kennedy, sleep masks are beneficial because they help you sleep longer. "Darkness promotes deeper, good-quality sleep. When the sky gets lighter, it signals to the body that it’s time to start waking up. Sleep masks are also helpful when sharing a bed with a partner who has a different sleep schedule or likes to read in bed," says Kennedy.

One con you could perhaps find with a sleep mask is level of comfort. "Depending on the construction of a mask, it can cause discomfort or even pain if it puts pressure on your eye or top of your ears," shares sleep specialist Chris Winter.

How often should I wash my sleep mask?

"If wearing nightly, at least once a week, similar to how often you should wash your pillowcase," says Nazarian.

"When we sleep, bacteria, oil, saliva and sweat move around our skin coming from our hair, mouth and nose. All [of] these things can contaminate our sleep masks, making them a risk factor for eye infections. Washing once a week, or more often, can decrease your risk of infection and keep your skin and eyes clean and healthy."

What is the best material for sleep masks?

One of the best materials for a sleep mask is 100 percent silk. "Silk masks can be useful for decreasing friction on the skin and decreasing wrinkles. There's a lot of movement and creasing while we sleep, and over time these can lead to deep lines on our face and especially around our eyes," adds Nazarian.

Best sleep masks to shop

Mavogel Cotton Sleep Eye Mask

With more than 47,800 verified five-star ratings, this eye mask is the softest for its price point. It's made of cotton and features a bendable nose wire that assists in blocking out light while keeping it in place.

Customers raved about the ergonomic design and how it covers well the light entry underneath the mask. "The material is soft and doesn’t put too much pressure on my eyes. The adjustable elastic band makes it so that it can fit anyone," one buyer added.

Alaska Bear Silk Sleep Mask

This is one of Amazon's bestselling sleep masks with over 23,000 verified five-star ratings thanks to its luxurious feel, adjustable strap and hypoallergenic features. If you have skin sensitivity, this pick is just right as it is made from 100 percent organic mulberry silk. One Shop TODAY writer also said this silk sleep mask is cool and "darker than any blindfold."

Marshmallow Gray Warmies Eye Mask

The marshmallow-like feeling of this eye mask will whisk you away to sleep land thanks to its calming lavender scent. It can also be warmed in the microwave for a relaxing experience and holds heat pretty well.

"I’ve never really been into sleep masks because they felt too flimsy for me, but I like the weight on this one because it stays in place and the pressure forces me to relax my eye muscles," said SEO associate editor Kamari Stewart.

Quince Mulberry Silk Beauty Sleep Mask

For a silky sensation around your eye area, wear this sleep mask from Quince. According to the brand, silk fiber contains 18 kinds of amino acids that help with skin nourishment. Also, this mask is made with a material that is hypoallergenic and ideal for sensitive eyes. The mask comes in seven different colors and is crafted with a very plush interior that will help block light and reduce fatigue at night.

Bodily You Deserve This: The Eye Mask

This eye mask is made from a cloud-like viscose and micromodal blend that feels ultra-soft for sensitive skin. Aside from its softness, the mask is adjustable to fit different head sizes and comes with a magnetic box to store it after you wake up.

Manta Sleep Mask

Winter loves this mask for its blackout experience and zero pressure on the eyelids. This soft mask will cover your eyes individually thanks to the plush material and soft foam. This one is constructed in a way that feels gentle on the nose area and the foam part rests around your eye to allow full darkness.

"This is very comfortable. The cutouts in the (adjustable/movable) eyecups prevent pressure on the eyeballs. When secured tightly with the Velcro strap, complete blackout is achieved," said one verified buyer.

Sutera Hydroluna Silk Sleep Mask

If you're strict about your skin care routine, this mask will leverage your regimen. Your eyes will feel cool at night thanks to the inner double lining of breathable cotton. This mask features a hydrating hyaluronic acid infusion that will help retain your skin's moisture overnight.

I personally use this eye mask when I want a silky and pillow-like sensation on my eyes. It feels ultra soft and the elastic band doesn't hurt at all.

Nodpod Sleep Mask

As a journalist who spends hours looking at a screen, this is one of my all-time favorite masks to use when I seriously need to unwind. All you have to do is lay it over your eyes and snooze!

The mask is weighted with microbead pods and features two comfortable sides (one made from cooling jersey cotton and the other with a warm microfiber material). The mask is super long and flexible, making it easy to cover every corner of your face. It totally blocks the eye and lays freely over your face even if you move around during the night. This one is ideal for back and side sleepers, and it features a tiny hole at the edge to secure the mask.

Ostrichpillow 3D-Ergonomic Eye Mask

Ostrichpillow offers innovative designs and unique sleep products for a restful experience. Their ergonomic eye mask is very comfortable and provides a full blackout experience for sleepers that require full darkness while they catch up on their zzz's. One customer said this mask made no "contact with my eyelids" and replaced their regular melatonin pills for the eye mask.

The mask has six layers of high-quality materials, which makes it thicker than traditional ones and creates a cavity that allows you to open your eyes when you're wearing it. Basically, is like wearing a pair of pillow goggles!

Saatva Weighted Silk Eye Mask

If you're looking to fall asleep faster, this durable, smooth and breathable eye mask from Saatva could help. The mask is weighted and offers a gentle pressure that will help in relaxing your eyes. Also, this one is extra smooth, thanks to the weight of silk threads used for this design.

"I'm not a huge fan of sleep masks, only because I've tried on too many that let light in / feel too tight around my head. That said, this is the one that I haven't had that issue with (and its weight feels incredibly good around my eye area — no wonder they call it a "weighted blanket for tired eyes"!) said senior SEO editor Jess Bender.

Drowsy Silk Sleep Mask

The minute your eyes touch the softness of this silk mask, you'll probably ease quickly into sleep mode. This mask has a squishy, cloud-like padding that wraps around your head and doesn't cover your nose. It has a fully adjustable head strap and it's made of silk all around so your skin and hair are protected.

"I've tried quite a handful of sleep masks in my life and this is the only one that both blocks out light completely (like, literally pitch black) and is actually comfortable and breathable around my head — and it doesn't pinch. If you're wary of the high price tag and skeptical about the reviews saying it feels like a cloud (like I was), I can 100 percent tell you it is worth the hype," said associate editor Francesca Sales.

Lunya Weighted Silk Sleep Mask

If you love covering your eyes with a pillow, this silk eye mask will cover your eyes completely. It's made with sustainable glass beads for the weighted sensation and it has an extra length of fabric on the side to cover your ears. (A noise-reducing sleep mask? Yes, please!) Imagine covering your eyes with a blanket with a snug feel thanks to the double elasticized band.

Meet the experts