A Psychologist's Guide to Weighted Sleep Masks: Do They Work? And Why?

A Psychologist’s Guide to Weighted Sleep Masks: Do They Work? And Why?

  • Medically reviewed by Kim Langdon M.D.
  • Last Updated: April 23, 2019

Good sleep is essential for our mental functioning, memory, and wellbeing [1]!. That’s why, as a clinical psychologist, I like to help my clients learn natural ways to improve their sleep. One such method is the use of a weighted sleep mask.

Here’s the run-down of everything I know about sleep masks, what effect they have on your sleep, who they are good for, and how to choose the best one for your needs.

What are Weighted Sleep Masks?

Weighted sleep masks are specially manufactured to aid a person’s sleep. They usually weigh about 400 grams for optimal distributed weight across the face. Made from fabric enclosing foam and/or small beads for added weight, they are made to fit the eyes snugly and entirely block out the light.

They come in various forms to suit differing sleep styles and various disorders that cause sleep disturbance. You may have a child with sensory processing disorder (SPD) and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) [3].

In such cases, you may want to choose a silk sleep mask so that the fabric does not chafe his/her skin.

Silk masks are made for tactile sensitivity, but some weighted sleep masks have other properties such as soothing aromatherapy scents or built-in sound mufflers to block out noise interference.

How Can They Benefit You and Your Child?

Weighted sleep masks are manufactured as an adjunct therapy for primary and secondary insomnia, not as a replacement for prescribed therapy [9].

Although they have not been tested in clinical trials on people struggling with psychological or sleep disorders, more and more studies and evidence support the fact that many people find them very effective and helpful.

So, how can weighted masks be of benefit?

Melatonin

Firstly, they block out the light that we’re exposed to, obviously! This is more important than most people would believe. Why? Our brains and bodies are regulated by what we call circadian rhythms: 24-hour cycles that help regulate our sleepiness and alertness [4].

What keeps these rhythms regular and on track? A hormone called melatonin.

Melatonin triggers sleepiness, and it’s released when we’re exposed to darkness. On the other hand, when we’re exposed to light (yes, even through closed eyelids), melatonin production declines and our brains and bodies start to wake up.

Obviously, this is not helpful if you’re wanting a deep, relaxing sleep [6]. Eye masks increase melatonin production, making sure that your circadian rhythm isn’t bothered by light.

Deep Pressure Stimulation

Secondly: evenly distributed pressure, just like a hug or being tightly wrapped in a blanket, has an immediate relaxing effect on the body. Relaxation is another important condition that the body needs in order to fall asleep, and pressure helps you obtain that relaxed state [9].

This concept is known as Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) or Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS) [7].

You may ask, ‘Why does pressure help us to relax?’ Well, evenly distributed pressure across our skin sends signals to the brain that reduce the fight or flight response, which is what keeps you alert and anxious. Deep pressure stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you to feel calm and improves your mood [11].

A weighted sleep mask, then, just like a hug or a caress, induces a certain pressure that can help bring about a state of peace, calm and happiness – just the way you want to feel before drifting off to sleep!

Sleep is Important

Thirdly, weighted sleep masks can be of benefit to you and your child because they can help you sleep better – in case you hadn’t guessed by now! They have the potential to improve not just the quantity, but also the quality of your sleep. You’re probably well aware of how important sleep is, otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this article, right?

But just in case you weren’t aware, getting enough sleep can reduce anxiety, improve our mental functioning and allow our body tissues to grow and repair.

Furthermore, healthy sleep can affect our metabolic health: lowering our blood pressure, for example; and it’s during sleep that our memories are placed into long our long-term memory stores.

There are some of the possible benefits that you stand to obtain if you choose to use a weighted sleep mask.

But who are they right for?

Who Should Use A Sleep Mask?

Anyone stands to benefit from better sleep through the use of a weighted sleep mask. However, there are certain conditions in which people are especially likely to benefit. These include:

  • Primary Insomnia [4] – Primary insomnia is an inability to sleep that is not caused by other disorders or conditions (such as air travel or shift work); whereas secondary insomnia refers to poor sleep patterns as a symptom of another condition or disorder such as anxiety and depression [3].
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – your child may be restless and active and not able to relax (9).
  • Depression – involves poor sleep patterns.
  • Anxiety – causes difficulty in relaxing and sleeping.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – people may wake up suddenly at night or not be able to fall asleep because of anxiety and/or nightmares.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – often involves disrupted sleep [2]
  • Neurocognitive diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s – a deterioration in neural functioning affects melatonin production [8].

That said, sleep masks have the potential to help anyone that’s simply not getting enough good quality sleep.

How to Choose the Right Mask For Your Needs

Here is a selection of sleep masks for specific needs.

#1. The Sleep Master ® Sleep Mask (great for city dwellers)

The Sleep Master ® Sleep Mask is a comfortable, half-face mask that comes in an ocean blue color at an affordable rate (plus shipping). It has great reviews and in addition to providing total blackout, it is a sound muffler that can be used for people dwelling close to bright street lights and nigh-time city noise.

Patented and hand-crafted in the USA, it is available online directly from the manufacturer. What we like about this mask is that it is a half face, this means that the block-out effect will remain even when you are moving position in your sleep and remain comfortably in place.

This noise muffler mask can also double as a good option for travelers (see next).

Click here to buy the Sleep Master ® Sleep Mask

#2. Proteove Cotton Sleep Mask (great for travelers)

We chose the Proteove Cotton Sleep Mask from Amazon for traveling because it is made from breathable cotton so your skin will stay at an even temperature. In addition, this half-face mask makes sure no chance of glaring light will penetrate through the sides.

An extra nose cover also ensures that no glimmers of light will come in. The grey cotton finish is discreet and this product, which is entirely made of foam and an elastic strap, is easy to fold and pack away in its matching travel pouch.

Click here to buy the Proteove Cotton Sleep Mask

#3. Nodpod: Weighted Sleep Mask for Sleep, Stress and Anxiety (great for side-sleepers)

Amazon sells a discreet, ribbon- or narrow band-shaped weighted sleep mask for travel called Nodpod: Weighted Sleep Mask for Sleep, Stress, and Anxiety that conveniently contours around the face of the wearer.

This means that if you’re napping or sleeping in an upright or awkward position, your sleep mask will adjust to fit you snugly, rather than slipping sideways and thus allowing light in. The Nodpod is weighted with non-toxic microbeads to avoid allergy.

There are both cool and warm sides: for warmth, one side is made with a soft, microfiber fleece cover. The other side is made of cotton and you can put this weighted sleep mask in the freezer if you want an extra cool-down or treat eyes puffy from traveling.

Do not microwave, please, this product cannot be heated!

Designed and crafted by someone who was searching for the perfect sleep aid, the Nodpod gets a first-class nod from sleep enthusiasts around the world. Nodpod is available in five colors: black, grey, blush pink, flamingo pink and purple.

Another suitable option for side sleepers is our choice of Mask for Those Who Want a Bit of Luxury.

Click here to buy the Nodpod: Weighted Sleep Mask for Sleep, Stress and Anxiety

#4. eighted Sleep Eye Mask Pillow Handmade by Candi Andi (great for tactile sensitivity)

Weighted Sleep Eye Mask Pillow Handmade by Candi Andi with a convenient adjustable strap. It is filled with natural flax seed, is microwavable and made of crushed velvet on one side and satin brocade on the other for those with tactile sensitivity.

Candi Andi products come either as unscented or with lavender leaves; scented for extra relaxation.

These masks are hand-made in a New York Studio and look fashionable – definitely, an item that can be shown off! You can pamper your face with the softness and scent and soothe puffy eyes by placing it in the freezer.

This is also a fairly luxurious mask, and you can take a look at the Better Sleep Luxurious Silk Sleeping Mask (below) as an alternative in luxury and tactile delight.

Click here to buy the Weighted Sleep Eye Mask Pillow Handmade by Candi Andi

#5. Alaska Bear – Natural Silk Sleep Mask & Blindfold, Super-smooth Eye Mask (great for luxury)

The Alaska Bear – Natural Silk Sleep Mask & Blindfold, Super-smooth Eye Mask is made with 100 percent Mulberry silk which is the best quality silk on the market. Both the filling and the cover are Mulberry silk which gives this mask the unique property of being able to regulate temperature.

Lightweight and comfortable, it is suitable for side sleepers. This mask has an adjustable strap and is recommended for men, women, and children. Only available in black, this mask is luxurious and soothing on the skin.

Click here to buy the Alaska Bear – Natural Silk Sleep Mask & Blindfold, Super-smooth Eye Mask

#6. IMAK Compression Pain Relief Mask and Eye Pillow, Cold Therapy for Headache, Migraine, and Sinus Pain (keeps your face cool)

IMAK Compression Pain Relief Mask and Eye Pillow, Cold Therapy for Headache, Migraine, and Sinus Pain is patented and comes in a universal size. Made by Brownmed, this cool, easy-to-wash product is available at Amazon.

Gentle pressure releases tension around the eyes and used as a cold compress (from being cooled before use). The mask is soothing for headaches, sinus discomfort, and migraine sufferers. This no-nonsense, compact, functional yet aesthetic mask is good for people who appreciate the pain-relieving effects of a cooling mask. Available only in black.

Click here to buy Brownmend’s IMAK Compression Pain Relief Mask and Eye Pillow, Cold Therapy for Headache, Migraine, and Sinus Pain

#7. Hot Compress Weighted Eye Mask by FOMI Care (to keep your face warm)

Do you live in cold environmental conditions, finding that the cool night air stops you from falling asleep. The Hot Compress Weighted Eye Mask by FOMI Care | Lavender Scented, Clay Bead Filling | Premium Warm Head Wrap is good for migraines, dry eyes, headaches, muscle tension, and sinus relief because of its Soothing Moist Pad.

It is slightly pricey, but then, it is filled with natural clay beads which makes it one of the few weighted sleep masks you can heat in the microwave.

It covers the entire forehead, down to the bridge of the nose and the sides of the face. This means that the even pressure, now warm from being heated, forms a firm compress around your head for reducing inflammation and pain.

Also scented with lavender and made with luxury fabric, this is a mini spa all-in-one.

Click here to buy the Hot Compress Weighted Eye Mask by FOMI Care | Lavender Scented, Clay Bead Filling | Premium Warm Head Wrap

#8. Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask (best for naps at work or travel)

The Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask comes with an earplug set and convenient carry pouch. Contoured and made in a deep blue color (the color of tranquility), this versatile option can be taken to work to be used in a break to refocus or meditate.

Ladies can use it without removing make-up because of the hollow eye cavities – so ‘no smudge’! It can be conveniently taken along as a travel pack and will help you to relax quickly.

Made with cotton and light bamboo, this attractive mask lives up to its name as a ’bliss’-full sleep aid.

Click here to buy the Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask

#9. Gravity Weighted Sleep Mask (great for comfort)

Gravity Weighted Sleep Mask, (Made by the Creator of the Gravity Blanket), For Sleep and Stress weighs 1 pound and takes the prize for cushioning.

The Gravity sleep mask makes the most of deep touch for your relaxation and DPS is applied on key pressure points by the mask for maximum tension release and relaxation.

It is made with soft, hygienic microfiber and filled with glass beads (not suitable for children). Please remember to hand-wash only. This product is scientifically developed and tested with the help of accredited medical journals and associations.

Gravity is a company experienced in the manufacture of products for DPS. Despite this, the reviews could have been better.

Click here to buy the Gravity Weighted Sleep Mask

#10. NapForm® Eye Mask with BioSense Memory Foam (great quality)

The NapForm® Eye Mask with BioSense Memory Foam by Brookstone is available from Amazon and is a bit higher priced, compared to some of the other options we found.

The mask looks flat, and even after the foam has cushioned the contours of your face, it will return to its original shape after use staying as plush after heavy use as it was on the first time you used it.

Soft and pleasant to the touch (with a toweling-type finish), this is a sleep mask that is appealing as a sleep accessory. We love that the memory foam is made from natural materials (green tea, charcoal and seed oils). It is washable and dries quickly.

Click here to buy the NapForm® Eye Mask with BioSense Memory Foam by Brookstone

Takeaway

Think of the presence of mind it takes to avoid a car accident! A good night’s sleep can mean the difference between life and death because it renews our energy and reflexes [10].

No matter the cause, interrupted sleep holds these potential consequences for the sufferer:

  • Impaired mental acuity,
  • Poorer emotional resilience,
  • Weaker physical strength and reflexes,
  • Irritability and low mood.

Even if it just a power nap you need, the right weighted sleep mask for you has what it takes to put you to sleep more quickly, promote quality rest and provide instant calm so that you can rejuvenate your body and brain.

Keep in mind, however, that not enough research has been done for us to say that weighted masks can be used to treat psychological and neurological conditions involving insomnia.

Be sure to use these masks as an adjunct to formal treatment – not instead of it!

References

  1. Adamah-Biassi, E. B., Clough, S. J., D. MT1 and MT2 Melatonin Receptors: A Therapeutic Perspective. Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology 56 (1), 361-383.
  2. Bestbier, L., & Williams, T. I. (2017). The Immediate Effects of Deep Pressure on Young People with Autism and Severe Intellectual Difficulties: Demonstrating Individual Differences. Occupational therapy international2017, 7534972. doi:10.1155/2017/7534972.
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
  4. Areco, V., Carpentieri, A., de Barboza, D., Peralta, M., López, N. & de Talamoni, L. (2012). New perspectives in melatonin uses, Pharmacological Research. 65(4). doi.org/10.1016/j.phrs.2012.01.003.
  5. Auld, F, Maschauer, M., Morrison, I. Skene, D., R. & Riha, R., L. (2017). Evidence for the efficacy of melatonin in the treatment of primary adult sleep disorders. Sleep Medicine Reviews.Aug, 34:10-22. doi: 10.1016/j.
  6. Claustrat, B., Leston, J. (2015). Melatonin: Physiological effects in humans, Neurochirurgie. (61), 2–3, doi.org/10.1016/j.neuchi.2015.03.002.
  7. Cugelman. A. Therapeutic touch: an extension of professional skills. (1998) Summer 8(3):30-21.
  8. de Rooij, S., E., Scholtens, R., van Kempen, M., F. & van Munster, B., C. (2016). Physiological melatonin levels in healthy older people: A systematic review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. July, 86:20-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2016.05.005.
  9. Lambert. C., Deep into Sleep. Retrieved from https://harvardmagazine.com/2005/07/deep-into-sleep.html on 5 February 2019.
  10. Wongprayoon P., Govitrapong. I. (2017). Melatonin as a mitochondrial protector in neurodegenerative diseases. Cell Mol Life Sci. Nov,74(21):3999-4014. doi: 10.1007/s00018-017-2614-x.
  11. Zissermann, L. (1992). “The Effects of Deep Pressure on Self-Stimulating Behaviors in a Child With Autism and Other Disabilities.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 46.6 547-51. Web.

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