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A sleep mask is a mask which is designed to fit over the eyes while sleeping, blocking out light so that it is easier to get to sleep in bright conditions. There are a number of different sleep mask designs, ranging from simple padded panels with ties to around the head, to gel sleep masks with molds which are designed to fit snugly over the eyelids. Many drug stores carry eye masks, as do shops which specialize in sleep wear and travel essentials, and they can also be ordered through Internet retails.
The principle of the mask is fairly simple: many people have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep in lighted conditions, so covering the eyes can ensure a most restful sleep. A sleep mask can be used to sleep in a lighted room, or it can be put on before bed so that the sleeper will not be woken by sunlight in the morning. Many travelers find these masks especially useful, because they cannot predict the sleeping conditions at their destinations.
Typically, these masks are soft and padded, so that they are comfortable to wear. The elastic or ties used to attach the mask are adjustable, so that the mask can be tightened for a snug fit, and the mask may be contoured to fit the nose and face so that it will not slip off or become repositioned during sleep. The material is usually thick, to ensure that no light will pass through the sleep mask.
Some masks are designed to be refrigerated or frozen so that they will be cool when applied to the face. This can be useful in hot weather, and it can allow the mask to double as a beauty aid; cool pressure on the eyes can help to relieve swelling, puffiness, and redness around the eyes. Other masks can be heated in the oven or microwave, which can be pleasant in the winter.
When taking a plane flight, a sleep mask can be a useful thing to pack. In addition to allowing you to sleep whether or not the windows are open, wearing a mask also sends a clear signal that you would like to be left alone. For people who do not enjoy chatting with random strangers on planes, this can be a distinct advantage. These masks are also useful for shift workers, who may need to sleep at odd hours.
When selecting a sleep mask to wear, pay close attention to the materials. If you are allergic to something in the mask, even mildly, it can cause your eyes to swell, turn red, or become painful. Feathers and some synthetic fibers are two things to watch out for; materials like silk are usually a safe hypoallergenic choice.
If you are going on a road trip with kids, investing in sleep masks is a great idea and will help them sleep even if you're traveling throughout the day.
I find that always having one or two extra is a good idea because the elastic bands on them tend to snap. This is especially true if you have someone younger fiddling with the mask.
Luckily, most sleep masks are quite cheap and they usually cost fewer than ten dollars. I pick mine up in bulk at my local big box store and make sure to keep a few in the car and at home.
If you live in a building that faces the rising sun, a sleep mask in invaluable if you can't afford to invest in blackout curtains.
I usually work nights, so I am forced to sleep during the day. I think that without a sleep mask I wouldn't be able to do my job, as the sun is just too bright in my bedroom during the mornings.
I have found that silk is the most comfortable fabric for a mask and generally I don't have any trouble with it falling off during the night due to the adjustable band. If it does come off, I can usually readjust it without needing to move too much.