It is never too late to start sleeping better. And it turns out that doing so has a host of important health benefits, from improved cardiovascular function or memory to glowing skin. And while there are factors outside our control that can compromise our sleep, there are a few surprisingly simple habits that have been proven to support uninterrupted, deeper, more restful sleep.
As humans – just like you – who sometimes struggle to get quality sleep, who travel under less-than-optimal shut-eye conditions, and who have been known to appreciate the nourishment of a midday nap, we have long been fans of sleep masks. What we didn’t realize was just how much science there is to suggest that the use of sleep masks supports higher-quality sleep, leading to reduced anxiety and depression, increased clarity of thought, and even fewer wrinkles.
Skeptical? We understand. It is in our interest to convince you of the merits of a sleep mask: we just released our own (which is really beautiful, if we may say so ourselves)! But there are solid reasons that so many have loved sleep masks for so long. And consider how wonderful it would be if the known benefits of a sleep mask were combined with the soothing experience of medicinal, plant-based dye and synthetic-free fabric.
There are many things that we can do to improve our sleep habits, but using an eye mask is the most portable, accessible option that we have found, with the added benefit of calming the nervous system, all while making the wearer look pretty stylish.
Ok, so maybe not 'stylish'. But healthier? Happier? Let's check out the science.
The Health Risk of Poor Quality Sleep
After a night of poor sleep, studies show that the part of our brain responsible for emotional regulation (our Amygdala) becomes 60% more reactive, resulting in mood swings, erratic behavior, and irritability. Just one night of sleep deprivation can lead to disruption in hormone production and chemical imbalance in the brain. The good news is, the impact of compromised sleep can also be reversed over time – through quality sleep. According to Harvard, "treating a sleep disorder may also help alleviate symptoms of a co-occurring mental health problem."
Why is this? Well, while we sleep, our brain cleans house. In 2013, scientists discovered that our brains are equipped with a glymphatic system that utilizes cerebrospinal fluid to remove waste products that accumulate during wakeful hours – waste such as beta-amyloid, which has been linked to Alzheimer's disease. When our sleep is disrupted or dysregulated, these toxins can begin to accumulate in the brain instead.
To say that a good night’s sleep is important feels like a bit of a no-brainer. (See what we did there?)
How can we improve our sleep?
Well first, it is helpful to understand what we're up against. One of the most omnipresent factors impacting quality of sleep in many parts of the world is artificial lighting. Offices, schools, hospitals, and all manner of technology screens are lit by artificial lighting with high blue-light content. Blue light signals to the brain to suppress the production of melatonin, a serotonin-derived hormone that is essential for the body to experience deep and restful sleep. A 2014 study proved that using an iPad before bed delayed the body's release of melatonin by 3 hours AND decreased the total amount of melatonin released by 50%, which significantly negatively impacted participants' quality of sleep.
Limiting our exposure to blue light before bed is a habit unanimously encouraged by sleep scientists. But it turns out, exposure to light in all forms during sleep can impact the quality of our sleep. Why might this be? According to the Sleep Foundation:
Each of us possesses an internal clock—also called the circadian rhythm—which controls our natural sleep-wake cycle. Circadian rhythm cues us to feel awake during the day and sleepy at night. Light is the most important external factor affecting readiness for sleep. Before the advent of electricity, humans woke and slept in sync with the rising and setting of the sun, but now lights in our homes, electronics, and light pollution outside have made the relationship between light and sleep much more complex.
Recently, in 2022, a study from Northwestern University found that sleeping in a moderately lit room for even one night "can impair glucose and cardiovascular regulation, which are risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome”. Equally surprising was the finding that study participants experienced adverse effects, even if they awoke feeling ‘fine’ or ‘rested’: “The participants in the study weren’t aware of the biological changes in their bodies at night. ‘But the brain senses it…‘It acts like the brain of somebody whose sleep is light and fragmented’” (Dr. Daniela Grimaldi).
How sleep masks may help improve quality of sleep
Sleep masks encourage deeper sleep by blocking light to create the experience of total darkness our body desires, which in turn regulates the body's circadian rhythm, signaling to our body to produce melatonin and other rest-inducing chemicals. Recently, a study found that the use of eye masks and earplugs had a positive correlation with the production of melatonin in participants in a simulated ICU. This also resulted in deeper, more restful sleep and reduced levels of cortisol.
In addition to allowing for healthier sleep - on the go, and at all times of day - sleep masks may also:
- Protects the skin, particularly sensitive skin around the eyes.
- Alleviate symptoms of dry eyes by protecting the eyes from the air, dust, and other irritants.
- Have a calming effect on the nervous system, which, in addition to improved sleep, can lead to improved mental health and clarity
In fact, the only negative side effect listed in the long-term usage of sleep masks is the potential for a mask to irritate the skin. This is where AIZOME steps in.
Most sleep masks on the market are made from petroleum derivatives.
Sleep masks are commonly made with Polyurethane foam (Memory foam) or Polyester fabric, and even masks advertised as 'all-natural' or organic may still contain synthetic and even toxic dyes. As such, it's no wonder that prolonged use of sleep masks could lead to skin irritation.
Our interest in developing a mask made entirely of natural ingredients – using ZERO synthetic materials, dyes, or finishing agents – was personal. As devoted sleep mask users, we longed for a mask that was reliably free of all the ingredients that we wanted nowhere near our face (or the earth, or the employees who made them). Better yet, what if a sleep mask could actually be made from ingredients with proven benefits to the skin, such as indigo? This December, the Journal of Applied Biomedicine will publish research on the skin-healing properties of plant-derived indigo — AIZOME’s first peer-reviewed study alongside an extraordinary team of researchers from Cambridge — proving what our ancestors knew all along: indigo is as powerful as the leading conventional topical medication for wound care and skin healing, but without any of the side-effects of topical steroids.
In crafting these masks, it was important to us that they align with AIZOME’s vision of uncompromised quality while carrying forth the spirit of simplicity, harmony, and omoiyari that is foundational to our core, and to the values of our customers.
- Simplicity: Sleep Zen masks are made from four ingredients: GOTS certified organic cotton, mulberry silk, natural rubber, and either indigo, madder, or nutgalls for dye. That’s it.
- Harmony: Sleep Zen offers an experience of tranquility born of the marriage of traditional Japanese craftsmanship, holistic medicinal wisdom, and innovative, energy-saving technology. It honors the brilliance of each in a balanced whole.
- Omoiyari: The production of our masks causes zero harm, incurring zero toxic waste or unhealthy conditions for employees or customers. Further, in ensuring zero synthetic materials are used, we take responsibility for our products from start to finish – by considering their end at the very beginning. And our AIZOME Forever warranty offers you peace of mind, knowing that we stand behind every product we create. We’re out to change how things are done, inspired by the Japanese philosophy of omoiyari: consideration for and connection to all things.
Check out our AIZOME Sleep Zen eye mask collection for better sleep with an eye mask that is kind to your skin, and kind to the planet.
To learn more fascinating facts about sleep, check out the TedTalk Sleep is your Superpower by Matt Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, founder of the Center for Human Sleep Science, and author of the book, Why We Sleep.