Sleeping masks are a great way to shut out light and get a restful nap. They’ve been around since 1933 and have evolved over the years. From a simple cloth around the eyes, sleeping masks can now track your sleep cycles and simulate a sunrise.
Smart sleeping masks can connect to your phone and even play your favorite podcast, meditation, or music as you doze off. A standard fabric eye mask blocks most light, so should you bother upgrading to a smart one? Here’s all you need to know.
How Do Sleeping Masks Improve Your Sleep?
Sleeping masks—or eye masks—help you sleep better. To understand how they work, you first need to understand the mechanics of sleep. Your body follows a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body’s biological clock. It helps regulate the mental and physical changes that occur in response to light and dark.
When this biological clock gets out of sync, the risk of chronic insomnia, obesity, and depression increases. A 2019 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests that misalignment of the circadian rhythm increases the risk of heart disease. If you’ve pulled an all-nighter, experienced extreme stress, or suffered from jet lag, you already know the effects of an out-of-sync sleep cycle. Blue light from smartphones, laptops, and TV screens can disrupt this cycle too. That’s where sleep masks come in.
A sleeping mask is a piece of soft fabric that wraps around your eyes, blocking all light. It allows your body to wind down for sleep. Blocking all light helps get your sleep cycle in sync. Eye masks also help keep your eyes protected and moist. While traveling, it’s often difficult to find a pitch-dark environment for sound sleep. So sleep masks simulate the natural night cycle to prepare your body for a restful sleep.
What Is a Smart Sleeping Mask?
Smart sleeping masks have features such as sleep tracking, integrated audio, massager, and light therapy. Lufthansa’s FlyingLab created the first intelligent sleeping mask called Neuroon in 2016. The mask accurately tracked a passenger’s sleep by analyzing their brain waves and heart rate, alongside their body and eye movement. This data helped to prevent jet lag.
Smart masks look the same as their conventional counterparts. But between the eye padding and the exterior is the brain of the mask. The electronics, battery, and various sensors live here. The sensors and functionality differ in each eye mask. However, light therapy is a new feature adopted by some manufacturers.
These masks go well beyond their primary purpose of blocking light. They tend to offer a greater level of comfort and relaxation. They are almost like a spa for your eyes. While blocking light is essential for sound sleep, you also need a quiet environment. On flights, passengers often use earplugs with eye masks to reduce noise. Smart eye masks come with integrated earphones that isolate and eliminate external noise.
How Do They Work?
Apart from blocking light, smart masks come with plenty of bonus features. Some are purposely weighted. They work like weighted blankets but for your eyes. However, other models use light therapy to correct your sleep cycle. The ones with integrated earphones can play white noise to help you fall asleep faster.
The eye padding in these masks is hollow from the inside. The breathable memory foam used in the eyecups follows along the ridge of your face to ensure a great fit. That helps form a comfortable seal around your eyes and prevents any light from leaking in. Some masks use heating pads or hot air to relieve eye strain and relax you.
Finally, light therapy is a useful feature found on many high-end sleeping masks. Instead of relying on vibrations or an alarm, the mask relies on controlled lighting. When the alarm goes off, the mask emits soft light to trigger your body’s natural response and gently wake you up.
Light therapy even helps you prepare for sleep. A smart sleeping mask by the company Sound Oasis uses red tonal lights to simulate sunset and relax the eyes. The International Space Station uses a similar light control system to help astronauts maintain a synchronized circadian rhythm.
Regular Sleeping Masks vs. Smart Sleeping Masks
There are several ways to avoid eye strain, sleep deprivation, stress, or jet lag. Sleeping masks offer the best solution. While conventional eye masks can help you shut out light, the smart versions go well beyond in terms of functionality.
Conventional sleep masks are lighter than smart ones. Standard eye masks weigh around 0.01 lbs. Fold it or store it in your pocket; you wouldn’t even know it’s there. Smart eye masks can tend to get heavier. With all the electronics, a battery, and extra padding, they can weigh over 0.4 lbs (200 grams).
Comfort, to a great extent, depends on personal preference. Smart masks are bulky, but they’re also extra comfortable. Breathable fabric, memory foam, heated pads, and an ergonomic design — they are a luxury to sleep in. However, many people prefer a simple, lightweight mask that is hardly noticeable.
Smart sleeping masks take the lead in terms of functionality. As mentioned above, they offer much more than just blocking light. Instead, they use controlled light to help you fall asleep faster, and relieve eye strain. With integrated earphones, internal heating, and sleep tracking, smart eye masks are the complete sleep management tool.
Pricing is a major deciding factor while picking smart sleeping masks. Eye masks with in-built wireless earphones start at around $25. The price can go upwards of $100 for high-end models; the lower the price, the fewer features you’ll get. In contrast, a conventional silk eye mask costs around $9.
Should You Upgrade to a Smart Sleeping Mask?
The smart features of these masks do come with a steep price tag. But think of them as long-term investments in better sleep. Additionally, you can connect these masks with your phone, schedule naps, and even track your circadian rhythm.
If you’re looking for an eye mask mainly to block light, then you should probably stick to the standard masks. They’re cheap, easily available, and ultra-lightweight. However, if you want to unwind after a long day and take advantage of many bonus features, a smart sleeping mask is the right pick.
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