When it's hard to switch off, achieving a restful night's sleep can be more of a challenge. Enter the sleep mask: an unassuming accessory with profound effects on both sleep quality and cognitive abilities.
Embracing Darkness for Quality Sleep
Also referred to as eye masks, sleep masks work by blocking out any ambient lighting to envelop the eyes in darkness. Light is tightly linked to sleep quality and duration, with research demonstrating its ability to interfere with our circadian rhythm (our internal clock that regulates our sleeping pattern) (1). By blocking out light, sleep masks have been found to improve reported sleep quality (2) and keep our circadian rhythms in check. Signalling to the body that it's time to rest, sleep masks can be particularly beneficial for individuals with irregular sleep schedules or those exposed to artificial light during the night e.g. streetlights. However, a recent study published in Sleep ("Wearing an eye mask during overnight sleep improves episodic learning and alertness") (3) has revealed several other benefits of sleeping masks that extend far beyond the realm of sleep quality.
The 2023 study comprised of two experiments exploring the cognitive advantages of wearing a sleep mask to bed. In the initial experiment, participants wore a sleep mask every night at home for a week, followed by a week without its use. The second experiment required participants to spend two nights sleeping with a sleep mask, followed by another two nights with a modified sleep mask that did not block out light. The results indicated that sleep masks lead to an improvement in alertness, memory, and learning.
Psychomotor vigilance tests revealed that wearing an eye mask to sleep that blocked out ambient lighting enhanced alertness upon waking. Participants had significantly faster reaction times after a week of wearing the eye mask to sleep, making them more behaviourally alert.
Improved Learning and Memory
The experiments also highlighted the pivotal role of sleep masks in memory retention and learning. Assessment on a word-pair associate task revealed that subjects using eye masks were better at learning new associations and forming new memories. Interestingly, the researchers discovered that the improvement in encoding memories was predicted by an increase in slow-wave sleep at the expense of rapid eye movement sleep – a phenomenon experienced by those who slept with eye masks.
Let There Be Darkness
The sleep mask is a versatile tool that not only improves sleep quality but can also lead to improved learning, superior memory performance and higher alertness. Sleep masks are a simple, cost-effective, and nonintrusive way of amplifying the benefits of a good night's sleep. However, if sleep masks really aren’t your thing, there are other ways of reaping the benefits of a darkened sleep-conducive environment. Blackout curtains and disconnecting any light-emitting devices such as TVs and computers can be equally effective.
The Chill Pill
Taking Leapfrog SNOOZE in combination with any of these darkening techniques can also elevate your sleep routine. Powered by natural Lactium® and Lactoferrin, Leapfrog SNOOZE supplements prepare your body for a peaceful slumber by promoting relaxation and calming an overactive mind. Lactium® is a milk protein hydrolysate that contains the peptide – alpha casozepine - that soothes a baby to sleep after a feed, so that you too can “sleep like a baby”. So pop a Leapfrog SNOOZE, slip on your sleep mask, and surrender to an uninterrupted night’s sleep that will allow you to greet the coming day with renewed clarity and focus.
By: Phoebe Lund Newlyn