Promoting the eye mask - it does wonders!

Dream Essentials Snooz™ Airline Style Eye Mask
I am truly amazed at how much better I nap when I'm wearing an eye mask. It's as though I'm able to enter the deepest sleep possible within minutes of falling asleep, maximizing the two hours I allow each day to nap. Add with the satin pillowcase I blogged about a few days back, and I'm now sleeping better than ever.

Because my naps have been so darn good, particularly with the use of an eye mask, I decided to do a little research on why blocking out light yields such a good sleeping experience. Turns out there are websites galore that explain our sleeping patterns, the factors that impact our sleep, and specifically, how light affects how much rest we get. The links to two of the more informative sites are here and here - but I'll share a few snippets below:


Sunlight detected by cells in the retina of the eye sends messages to the brain that keep us in a roughly 24-hour pattern. These light cues trigger all kinds of chemical events in the body, causing changes in our physiology and behavior. For example, as evening approaches and the light in our environment dwindles, the hormone melatonin begins to rise and body temperature falls—both of which help us to become less alert and more likely to welcome sleep. With the help of morning light, melatonin levels are low, body temperature begins to rise, and other chemical shifts, such as an uptick in the activating hormone cortisol, occur to help us feel alert and ready for the day.


Scientists refer to sleep drive as a homeostatic system. Like body temperature or blood sugar, sleep is regulated internally. For instance, when body temperature falls, blood vessels constrict and we shiver; when blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas secretes insulin; and when we remain awake for an extended period of time, structures in the brain promote sleep. Furthermore, the duration and depth of our sleep vary according to the quantity and quality of sleep obtained previously. With every waking hour there is a strengthening of the homeostatic sleep drive. This strengthening isn’t directly measurable as a quantity, but experts think that it is the result of the level of brain activity during wakefulness. One hypothesis suggests that the build-up in the brain of adenosine, a by-product of energy consumption by cells, promotes sleep drive. The fact that both adenosine and sleep drive increase during wakefulness and dissipate during sleep suggests a possible link between the two.

 --It is natural for people to go to bed when they are sick. Substances produced by the immune system to help fight infection also cause fatigue. One theory proposes that the immune system evolved "sleepiness inducing factors" because inactivity and sleep provided an advantage: those who slept more when faced with an infection were better able to fight that infection than those who slept less. In fact, research in animals suggests that those animals who obtain more deep sleep following experimental challenge by microbial infection have a better chance of survival.

If you're considering an eye mask to maximize your nap and/or nighttime sleep, here's the good news: it won't break the bank. The eye mask pictured above runs $2.95, and you can find one on Amazon for $2.56. I can't vouch for how "good" these masks are, but based upon the fact that I use a mask that I received free from an airline on an overnight flight, I think just about any one will do.

Personal note: If you choose to use an eye mask in the middle of the day, I do recommend allowing your eyes to become slowly accustomed to the light at the conclusion of your nap. You won't believe how sensitive your eyes are after you've been wearing a mask! Particularly on a sunny afternoon, don't immediately take off the mask and open your eyes. Instead, remove the mask, but keep your eyes shut for another minute or two while they adjust to the light filtering through your eyelids. I know it sounds like a simple thing - but believe me, when you open your eyes too quickly after using the mask, it doesn't feel so great!

Interestingly, I just attended the LFA DMV Virginia Summit this past weekend in Richmond, and I caught the tail end of a great talk about Memory and Lupus Fog, given by Dr. Aarat Patel. He mentioned two books about sleep - one, simply called, "Sleep", and another called "Lights Out!". I think both books talk a lot about this concept of light and how it affects our sleep. Happy reading, and happy napping!


The Patient Doc said…
Thank you for reminding me of the importance of naps. I truly enjoy them but feel guilty when I do. I always feel like like there's something else I should be doing. But this post has just inspired me......
Sara Gorman said…
Glad u can relate! I found that once I started viewing my naps as a necessity, rather than a luxury, my whole mindset shifted. And I found people responded better to my naps when I presented them as just part of my daily routine. I hope u enjoy yours!
Debs said…
In the beginning of my health problems, I was diagnosed on & off between Fibromyalgia, MCTD, & Lupus. FM won out the most until 1998 (1988 was onset). Many things from the Arthritis Foundation, lectures or reading, or seminars (even brought the family on a long weekend out of state)focused on sleep. Blue night lights, melatonin, try an antihistamine when you're traveling & in a strange hotel room vs antidepressants (this from a surgeon). Eventually, I realized that no matter what time I went to bed, as soon as a bit of light leaked in through a shade or under the washroom door, I was awake. But I do sleep well at night & I don't have kids living at home anymore. We have had room darkening shades for years. But when the trees lost their leaves, light starting leaking in around the shades. We found tongue in groove (?) type of shades, where there is no light leaking between the shade & a strip mounted on the inside of the window frame. For a bit of light, we have a dim night light under the night stand or dresser & a light in the washroom with maybe a tissue box in front of it to block direct light from hitting a mirror & reflecting. At first, you think you're going to run into something & have major bruises. But like you said with whipping off the mask, your eyes get used to the dim light or bright light with some time. It seems bright enough during the night. Another thing I have started to use over the years, a white noise machine. Again, the quiet of the house & the noise of a hotel room & advice from travelers, brought me to trying one. And now instead of packing one on a trip, there's an app for that! And better yet, IT'S FREE! I'm particular & it has to be a white/brown noise, depending on what type of machine or app one purchases or downloads. Another thing I use since I couldn't get used to the eye mask, a soft hand towel, even in a hotel. If you use a phone app for a white noise, make sure you plug it in or your phone will go dead! My last comment, your nap being a necessity is so true! I may rarely nap, but I often sit with my legs up for 20-30 min. AND, I do need my 8 or 10 or 12 hours of sleep! Take care of yourself people.
NamasteDoc said…
Thanks for sharing, benefits of Eye Mask.
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Sara Gorman said…
Debs - These are fabulous ideas. Thanks a million for sharing. That noise machine is a great idea. Every once in awhile, I turn my fan on the a/c to "ON" rather than auto...just so I can block out the noise!
Debs said…
Sara - I've done the same thing with the "ON" of the a/c fan! I also wanted to add another thank you for your blog & your book. I often refer to both myself & recommend both to many people, especially those looking how to adjust to any chronic disease & how to prepare for their Dr. appointments. Occasionally, I'll share a blog on Facebook if it pertains to something I'm feeling or a teaching moment. This internet "thingy" is helping exponentially. Do you have plans to write another book for the future? Just curious.
Sara Gorman said…
Thanks so much - so glad the book is a good resource for you. It's so kind of u to share that with me! I DO have plans for another book...i think on parenthood and a chronic illness...but my husband may publish one first. He's working on it!! Thanks again for such nice feedback.

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