Do Weighted Sleep Masks Actually Work?
Like weighted blankets for your eyes, they're purported to promote relaxation, ease tension headaches and migraines, and cure insomnia. Here's what experts have to say.
By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz about weighted blankets. Well, now the trend has come for your eyes, too, promising to ease stress and anxiety, promote better sleep, and even provide relief from tension headaches and migraines.
Typically stuffed with microbeads, natural flaxseeds, or sand, weighted eye masks claim to work by providing gentle pressure that sends a signal to your brain to relax, while also blocking out sleep-disturbing light.
As a light sleeper who has suffered from tension headaches for years, I had to find out if the hype was real. Here, my experience putting a weighted eye mask to the test — plus what experts have to say about the benefits.
How Do Weighted Eye Masks Improve Sleep?
Like their non-weighted counterparts, the first benefit of weighted eye masks is that they help to block out light. Cutting back on light exposure at nighttime is important for one big reason: It helps support your body’s circadian rhythm, says Mohan Dutt, M.D., a sleep specialist at Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Centers and a host of the White Noise Podcast. That’s because our bodies produce melatonin — the hormone that keeps your sleep-wake cycle in check — in dim light situations, he explains.
In fact, a 2011 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism noted that exposure to light before bed delayed the production of melatonin by about 90 minutes. Which is why, Dr. Dutt explains, avoiding light before bed — especially in the form of blue light — is crucial for scoring a good night’s sleep.
In the case of weighted eye masks, they come with the added benefit of deep pressure stimulation (DPS) or deep touch pressure (DTP), which decreases the activity of your body's sympathetic nervous system (the home to your body’s 'fight or flight' stress response), Dr. Breus explains.
"At the same time, deep pressure stimulation activates the parasympathetic nervous system — sometimes called the ‘rest and digest’ system — lowering your heart rate and blood pressure and increasing feelings of calm and relaxation,” he says.
While the weight is nothing major — only about one pound — it’s a small-but-mighty force. Similar to using a weighted blanket, the weight adds an overall feeling of “grounding” that helps to reduce anxiety, which in turn can help those who suffer from insomnia.
Can a Weighted Mask Help with Headaches and Migraines?
As a longtime migraine and tension headache sufferer, I’ve tried it all — medication, massage, acupuncture, magnesium supplements, and even sleeping on a bag of frozen peas, to name a few. (Hey, when you run out of ice, you take desperate measures.)
So, when I heard about the existence of weighted sleep masks that come with the added claim of reducing migraine and sinus pain — giving it a go was a no-brainer. On one recent night, I had already tried Excedrin, light facial massage, and blocking out the world in a dark room to no avail. It was only when I put the weighted mask on that I was finally able to relax my forehead, eye muscles, and face — and finally find relief.
So, was this all placebo effect or is there real science to support this benefit? While research regarding DPS and headaches is still developing, there have been studies linking tension headache relief and acupressure, a traditional Chinese medicine massage therapy that relies on applying pressure to specific points to alleviate pain and illness. Of course, acupressure involves the manual application of pressure, while a weighted eye mask — like the IMAK Compression Pain Relief Mask and Eye Pillow — relies on tiny beads that apply "a gentle massage effect." In other words, jury is still out scientifically-speaking, but there's tons of evidence to support this use anecdotally.
You can also pop a weighted mask (or any eye mask, really) in the freezer before placing it over your eyes, a tactic that many migraine sufferers use to help reduce head pain, says Sara Crystal, M.D., a neurologist and headache specialist at New York Headache Center and medical advisor for Cove.
It's important to note that not everyone will react the same to a weighted eye mask. For some (including those with allodynia, which is a symptom of migraines that causes non-painful stimuli, like brushing your hair, to feel painful) added weight might actually make things worse during a migraine, cautions Dr. Crystal.
Bottom line: If you suffer from a specific condition that causes chronic headaches, it’s helpful to consult with your doctor to see if a weighted eye mask can help or hurt.
The Best Weighted Eye Masks
If you want to try a weighted eye mask for yourself, here are four top-rated options that can help the next time you can't sleep or get slammed with a headache that just won't quit.
Mention "weighted eye masks" and you'll find that the Nodpod mask is most frequently talked about. Made with jersey cotton on one side and cozy microfiber fleece on the other, you can pick the material that suits your sleep mood on any given night. One reviewer said the mask helped reduce pain related to chronic migraines and tension headaches, adding that the jersey knit side of the mask "helped my head stay cool."
Designed by an orthopedic doctor, this mask is filled with tiny beads that work to provide gentle massage around the eyes, while also incorporating stitching that keeps the mask from sitting directly on top of the eyeball.
One reviewer said it's a must-have for her migraines, noting that she keeps it in the freezer for the added cooling effect. "The minute I put it on, I have relief," she wrote. "It’s hands down a miracle."
This sleep mask uses tiny glass beads to evenly distribute weight lightly across your face. Plus, it comes with a separate gel pack that can be cooled or heated.
One reviewer said it felt like a massage, and helped relax her forehead when dealing with tension headaches.
ASUTRA included stress-relieving lavender in their weighted eye mask, which also includes flaxseeds (which provide the weight that other masks get from tiny beads or sand). The mask even comes with a bag of extra lavender and flaxseed mixture so you can play with the weight and find the best pressure for you.