After decades of increasingly complicated insomnia fixes, this one little thing changed everything.
For most of my life, I have been unlucky in sleep. Falling into slumber has never been a problem, but if I toss just a little too hard in the wee hours, all bets are off. Once awake, I will lay there and watch the hours pass, tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock, until surprise, it's time to get up. Considering that around 60 million Americans are affected by some form of insomnia, I know that I am not alone.
Given the importance of sufficient sleep for good health and emotional wellbeing, I have tried everything to coax those elusive forty winks into existence. I have tried most of the tips and learned how to hypnotize myself. I've created elaborate sheep-counting schemes, which worked for a while until I got so good at counting that it became automatic and no longer effective. I have tried herbs and supplements. I have stayed in bed and read; I have even tried sleeping like a Victorian – but nothing has ever helped longterm.Until...
Until I got a sleep mask. A thing I always thought I would hate; that I imagined would be endlessly uncomfortable and make me feel claustrophobic. But lo and behold, the simple sleep mask has saved the day! Or the night, as the case may be.
Now I know I am not the first person to discover the soporific splendors of the sleep mask, I just had no idea that something material could fix my problem. I always assumed my insomnia was born from more intrinsic, genetic roots; that I was somehow wired to have a crazy-awake brain in the predawn hours.
But now when I stir at 2:00 am, or whatever time the insomnia sprites decide to strike, I put on my mask and somehow, miraculously, fall right back to sleep. I have actually, get this, been able to sleep in a few times. This is unheard of.
I can't say that I know the secret to its success. Living in the city that doesn't sleep means that I live in the city that is never really dark, and light does slip into the bedroom. But when I've previously blocked the windows of night light, it didn't make much of a difference. Does wearing the mask make it that much darker? Does it relax my eyes? Is there a soothing quality to having the soft fabric against my face? Is it simply psychological?
I don't know the answer, but I am grateful, whatever the magic may be. Getting enough sleep – which the CDC defines as seven or more hours for adults – is more than just for beauty. And also more than just a way to fight the corresponding daytime sleepiness, which often results in functional impairment throughout the day. It's imperative for good health. As the CDC explains, "insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and management of a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression."
With so many people suffering from an inability to sleep long enough, is it any wonder that Americans spend some $2 billion dollars a year on insomnia drugs? As the CDC notes, once a health care provider rules out any other potential causes (such as other sleep disorders, side effects of medications, substance abuse, depression, or other previously undetected illness) "they may treat chronic insomnia with a combination of use of sedative-hypnotic or sedating antidepressant medications."
The more we can avoid pharmaceuticals, the better. They end up in the water – just think about all the sleepy fish and drowsy frogs! (I don't really know if that happens, but drugs in the water are a very serious problem). And sleep aids in particular can do wacky things to people. Aside from the usual litany of potential side affects of most drugs, some sleeping pills may come with the bonus side affect of parasomnia.
As described by WebMD, parasomnias happen when one is asleep, and not aware of what they are doing – movements, behaviors and actions over which the sleeper has no control:
"Parasomnias with sleeping pills are complex sleep behaviors and may include sleep eating, making phone calls, or having sex while in a sleep state. Sleep driving, which is driving while not fully awake, is another serious sleeping pill side effect."
Which is all to say, man am I glad to have stumbled into a cure for my curse. I know that a sleep mask won't work for everyone, but if nothing else has worked for you so far, why not give it a try?
Travel + Leisure has a good review of masks here – though some of them are pretty pricey. The number one seller on Amazon has over 10,000 reviews and costs $10. There are also countless DIY tutorials on YouTube for sewn and no-sew masks.
For much more on the topic, see the related stories below.