Health, Life

Wearing Eye Masks At Night May Boost Brain Function


Light coming from anywhere, even the moon, has the ability to disrupt sleep. The best way to avoid this is to wear an eye mask as a new study suggests that blocking out light while you rest could help improve memory, alertness, and reaction time.

This newest study reminds is that lifestyle changes don’t always need to be expensive or it doesn’t require hard work. You can improve wellbeing with the use of simple and cost-effective help. People who sleep with an eye mask have shown improvements in cognitive skills such as recall, word association, and reaction time. This was according to research published in the journal Sleep.

The boosts that were seen in memory and reaction times have wide implications, according to lead author of the study, Viviana Greco. She’s a PhD candidate at Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Center in Wales.

“For example, better learning could improve academic and professional performance, while faster reaction times could help in sports, driving, or other situations where quick responses are critical,” explained Greco.

Wearing Sleep Masks the Night Before: Participants Demonstrated Better Recall and Reaction Time

Previous research has also demonstrated how ambient light can negatively influence both the length and the quality of sleep. Included here is how much deep or slow-wave sleep (SWS) you get, as per the authors. Even when the lights in the bedroom have been switched off, you may still be exposed to ambient light from the phone or from a streetlight outside. Even the moon is considered light that disrupts.

For this specific study, Greco and her colleagues designed two experiments. Their goal was to explore how wearing an eye mask to block light at night will have an impact on memory and alertness. In the first experiment, 89 adults ages 18 to 35 were asked to use an eye mask (the intervention) for an entire week. After getting used to it during the first five days, they had to go through a series of lab tests to test recall and reaction time for the last two days.

During the “control” week, participants had to also go through the same regimen, but this time, the mask wasn’t used. They found that those who wore the masks had done better on a word-pair association task. This task measures their ability to recall events and experiences. They also had a psychomotor vigilance test that measured behavioral alertness and sustained attention. The results seen how masks were linked to better episodic memory encoding and alertness, the authors noted.

For the second experiment, 33 adult volunteers between ages 18 and 35 slept with an eye mask (the intervention) and then two nights using a mask with cutouts so that no fabric covered the subjects’ eyes (the control). This was designed to make sure the results weren’t affected by the overall sensation of a mask. Just like the first study, those who wore the complete mask performed better on the tasks requiring them to pair words.


Blocking Out Light Could Lower Number of Disruptions to Circadian Rhythms

Both these studies were well-designed and executed, said Thomas Preston, PhD. He is a clinical assistant professor in the department of neurology at Stony Brook Medicine in Stony Brook, New York. However, he was not part of the research.

“These findings are interesting, though not necessarily surprising. We’ve known for many years that large amounts of ambient light disrupts sleep cycles. It makes people less alert and makes it harder for people to function,” said Dr. Preston.

The reason behind this is because the circadian rhythm, or the body’s internal clock, synchronizes important bodily processes such as sleep, cognition, and health. All of which are done according to the day and night cycles, said Greco.

“Disruptions to our circadian rhythm, such as exposure to light at night, can impact memory and alertness. Additionally, it is widely recognized that a good night of sleep is beneficial for cognitive functions,” he added.


Slow Wave Sleep: Time When Body Restores and Repairs

In the second study made, the participants were asked to use an EEG headband to help track sleep stages. They were also made to have a sleep diary. According to their entries, the mask didn’t have an impact on length of slept or the quality of sleep.

However, the EEG headbands saw that they had enhanced learning performance after wearing the mask. It was positively correlated with spending more time in slow wave sleep (also called NREM sleep, or deep nonrapid eye movement sleep).

Slow wave sleep is when the body is at its most restful state. The term “slow wave” is used because brain waves are slowest during this stage, according to the Sleep Foundation. This is when the body physically does it restoration. Research suggests that up to 95 percent of human growth hormone is produced during this time and most adults spend between 10 and 20 percent of their sleep in SWS.


High-Quality Sleep Linked to Improved Cognition

Existing proof establishes the link between higher-quality sleep and improved cognition, and interrupted sleep can show otherwise, explained Preston. For instance, those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which the breathing patterns change due to airway obstruction, perform less cognitive tests, said Preston. “In general, they have poorer learning and retrieval of new information, and they have poorer attention and psychomotor processing speed,” he said.


Sleep Aids Designed to Block Out Light and Noise Help

Although the results in the two small studies were statistically significant, the findings weren’t huge when it comes to measurement, said Preston. “In your daily life, you may or may not really notice a change. Wearing a mask to sleep won’t turn you into a cognitive superman or superwoman,” he said.

However, the new research adds to current evidence that blocking out ambient light improves sleep quality. This is generally linked to enhanced cognition, said Preston. “Wearing a sleep mask is potentially a very useful thing to do to improve sleep. Just don’t expect gigantic effects,” he also said.

Also, blocking out intermittent disruptive noise with ear plugs and or listening to “colored” sound such as brown or pink noise (which is similar to white noise) could also help improve sleep, Greco shared.


For Quality Sleep, Keep Phone Away

Spending a lot of time on phones, iPads, and computers near bedtime can pose a few problems for most people, said Preston. “For example, research suggests that when you keep your phone on in your bedroom at night, you’re ‘sleeping with one eye open,’” he explained.

This means that you’re more likely to be vulnerable to alerting stimuli (such as tones or a screen lighting up) if the alerting stimulus is within reach. That disrupts sleep, he explained.

“I tell people who are having issues with getting enough sleep or quality sleep that the phone must be in another room, and it needs to be off. All screens should be off at least an hour before bed,” Preston said.

There are also other things you can do to improve quality of sleep. A few suggestions would be: consistent bed and wake times, cutting down or altogether avoiding alcohol and caffeine before sleep, and other things will help, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

slThere are little things you can do to get the best rest, but you also shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you aren’t able to always stick to the plan, said Preston. “Often, we put pressure on ourselves to be a top performer in every area, including sleep,” he advised.

Preston has also made a few recommendations such as establishing a good pattern of getting ready for bed by taking note of the general principles when it comes to proper sleep hygiene. “If you deviate on occasion, don’t stress about it. That’s probably going to make you toss and turn even more and may make it even harder to sleep,” he also said.