Sleep masks serve many purposes, other than just being a decorative gift or freebie on your airplane seat.
From blocking out light to helping you doze off without any distractions, they’re one way of improving your sleep without needing to reach for medicinal aids.
They’re also ideal if you have different sleep patterns to your partner and prefer an early night, but don’t want to be disturbed when they come to bed later on.
When choosing one, it’s important to look at a number of factors. How well do they cover the eye, do they sit comfortably on the face? Also consider how well they block out light and how effective the ties or strap are at keeping them in position while you’re using them.
With so many to choose from, we’ve narrowed it down to those that offer different features to help you get the best quality sleep possible, whether it's a quick afternoon nap or all through the night.
How we tested
From luxurious silk styles to innovative eye contours, bold prints or self-heating options, we put them through a rigorous testing period, rating each on their design and effectiveness across high-end and budget buys.
The best eye masks for 2021 are:
Best overall – Smug contoured 3D blackout sleep mask: £12, Sleepsmug.com
Best luxury sleep mask – Slip silk sleep mask: £50, Johnlewis.com
Best for bold prints – Jessica Russell Flint monogram sleep mask: £36, Anthropologie.com
Best heated mask – Spacemasks eye mask pack x 5: £15, Beautybay.com
Best for a lightweight feel – Echor total black out eye mask: £14.99, Amazon.co.uk
Best for comfort – Alaska Bear luxury sleep eye mask: £12.99, Amazon.co.uk
Best cotton eye mask – Desmond and Dempsey eye mask sansindo tiger print navy/pink: £20, Desmondanddempsey.com
Smug contoured 3D blackout sleep mask
This ingenious mask has soft but structured contours that leave space around the eye area, while still keeping you in total darkness. It was a brilliant way to block out the light without any pressure on our eyelash extensions and we were able to fully open our eyes while wearing it.
Despite this, the mask is smaller than some of the oversized designs we tried but is equally as good, if not better, at helping us drift off without any light disrupting us. It’s very reasonably priced too and, while it would be nice as a present, we’ll be keeping this to ourselves.
Buy now £12.00, Sleepsmug.com
Slip silk sleep mask
Best: Luxury sleep mask
As the most expensive on our list, this design screams opulence and is softer than any other we tried. Thanks to the mulberry silk material it’s high quality and would make a gorgeous gift if you can bear to give it up. It comes packaged in a matching pink box, which is a great way to keep it clean and from falling down the side of your bed when you’re not using it.
As it is made from pure silk, we did find it can slide off your eyes and we woke up with it on our pillow rather than our face. That said, our reviewer was out like a light, so if you’re looking for a luxurious sleep aid, then this is it.
Buy now £50.00, Johnlewis.com
Jessica Russell Flint monogram sleep mask
Best: For bold prints
We looked forward to going to bed with this luxurious silk mask. The bold prints, bright colours and monogrammed design were a nice change of pace and really stood out. It was also a game changer when trying to snooze during the day, especially on a speedy lunchtime nap in between Zoom meetings.
It’s created by British artist Jessica Russell Flint, whose signature style is eccentric, colourful patterns and while on the pricier side, it’s worth the splurge if you’re shopping for someone special. Made from pure silk, it’s super soft and the coordinating silk tie kept it in place without any problems.
Buy now £36.00, Anthropologie.com
Spacemasks eye mask, pack of 5
Best: Heated mask
Unlike the other masks we tried, this design is a one-use option that’s self-heating. The palm sized masks, once unfolded and looped around your ears, have a thin layer of iron filings that react with oxygen in the air to heat up safely. They’re also infused with lavender to be extra relaxing.
Within a minute you can feel them begin to get warm, but they’re never too hot to touch, and we found they stayed warm for approximately 15 minutes. They’re a fantastic break for tired eyes that have been staring at screens all day, but we’d recommend keeping this for naps rather than to help you sleep better at night, as eventually, they cool down.
Buy now £15.00, Beautybay.com
Echor total black out eye mask
Best: For a lightweight feel
We were very impressed by this mask that felt as light as air to wear. It sits gently on the face with foam indentations that mean you can still fully open your eyes while wearing it, without any light getting in. It helped us drift off much faster as there wasn’t that feeling of something on your face to get used to before we could relax. It’s a clever, fuss free design with an elasticated strap that we found worked best with short hair or long hair that was tied up for maximum comfort.
Buy now £14.99, Amazon.co.uk
Alaska Bear luxury sleep eye mask
Best: For comfort
This is a great option if you’re shopping on a budget. There's 12 art-based styles to choose from, ranging from "The great wave off Kanagawa" to an illustrated aurora borealis. We opted for this Van Gogh-inspired number however.
It’s soft and feels silky, but our favourite feature is the adjustable headband, similar to a buckle, that can be easily loosened or tightened spending on your head shape. As most eye masks have a one size fits all approach, we loved this small change that made a world of difference to wearing it comfortably all night.
Buy now £12.99, Amazon.co.uk
Desmond and Dempsey eye mask sansindo tiger print navy/pink
Best: Cotton eye mask
While many eye masks on the market these days tend to be a silk or satin fabric, this tiger print one created by the luxury sleepwear company is made from cotton, with a simple, fuss-free design and an eye-catching print. We love that you can coordinate it with matching pyjamas, which would make a lovely Christmas or birthday gift. It's a touch of luxury that’s worth splurging on. It felt comfortable to wear and didn’t slide down our face in the night, keeping us in the dark until the alarm sounded.
Buy now £20.00, Desmondanddempsey.com
Eye masks FAQs
How to choose a sleep mask
While there are many options out there, when choosing your new eye mask you should consider three main points; fit, fabric and blackout capability. When it comes to fit, ideally you would like a mask that is secure enough that it won’t slide down your nose as you nap but also that’s not too tight that it presses on your eyeballs and disrupts your REM sleep.
You must also consider the fabric of the eye mask, and in turn, how good the blackout qualities are. Cotton is a good choice thanks to its softness, light-blocking and moisture-wicking capability. Some masks are made of polyester, as they are durable and inexpensive, but beware as this type can make you sweat and may absorb excess product from your nighttime skincare regime.
A good middle ground would be to pick a satin eye mask, which is a mix of cotton and silk. It is as breathable and lightweight as cotton but less expensive than finer fabrics. Overall it is silk that comes out on top in the battle for the best fabric for sleep masks. It’s lightweight, has great blackout properties and glides smoothly across the skin, meaning it won’t tug or crease your face.
Do sleep masks really work?
If you struggle with sleep generally, work night shifts or just have a really persistent street lamp outside your window, sleep masks can work wonders. Research from 2010 has shown that the use of sleep masks can result in shorter REM latency, more REM time, and elevated levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone). Largely, a sleep mask can be really useful to help create an ideal sleep environment.
Do sleep masks give you acne?
Applying pressure to the face may irritate acne that is already there and it is possible that dirt or bacteria could be trapped between the skin and the fabric, which could cause more spots to form.
However, there are ways to avoid skin issues when wearing a sleep mask. Make sure to wash your sleep mask regularly and find one that’s made from sweat absorbing natural materials, like cotton or silk, that are moisture-wicking and anti-bacterial.
The verdict: Eye masks for sleeping
We can’t fault the Smug contoured 3D blackout sleep mask, and being able to fully open your eyes while still being comfortably in the dark is a game changer to both comfort and quality of sleep. It’s compact too, so there’s no problems bringing it with you on long car journeys, planes and trains.
For the latest discounts on sleepwear and other accessories, try the below links:
Still struggling to get a good night’s rest? These are the sleep products the IndyBest team can’t nod off without