There are two types of people: Those who use sleeping masks, and those who have never tried sleeping masks. I am fervently the former. My journey into voluntary sightlessness began while backpacking through Southeast Asia in my mid-20s. To fall asleep in the dozens of different dormitories, I took to blindfolding myself with a thin silk scarf. It didn’t even cross my mind to purchase a real sleeping mask until coming across an expertly crafted velvet eye mask in a San Francisco vintage store. It turned out to be a bondage mask. After losing that at a hostel in Naples, I engineered a reverse trip back to Naples to try and find it. I was unsuccessful.
To replace my bondage mask, I tried close to a dozen masks before I found my holy grail, thanks to glowing customer reviews on Amazon. The Lewis N. Clark Comfort Eye Mask promises and delivers total darkness, superior comfort, and customizable straps. The cotton interior is pillowy-soft, so much softer and more comfortable than other masks that I tried, many of which were made from polyester (or other nonnatural fabrics). Some used Velcro in the back, which tangled my hair. Some were technically successful but were too thick or stiff or above my price point of “stingy.” The Lewis N. Clark is affordable but it doesn’t feel cheap.
What really separates the Lewis N. Clark is the rib of padding along the bow-shaped bottom edge. Most sleeping masks let in the light in the gap under your eyes, but this mask blocks out all of those early morning rays. It delivers a Mole Man level of complete darkness. Some masks I tried also aimed to block sound by wrapping around the ears, but only a fool would ask a sleep mask to do such a thing (I use ear plugs for that).
If you’re interested in an eye mask that doesn’t sit on your eyes so much as surround them, try the Bucky eye mask that writer Maureen O’Connor first brought to our attention: “The molded-foam material is so lightweight that you barely feel like you’re wearing anything on your face. You are free to blink in total darkness. This liberation of masked eyelids is, I assume, why the mask has become a best seller for the Seattle-based brand. I’ve worn it on economy class transatlantic flights. I’ve worn it on trips upstate with friends who insist on waking up with the sun. I’ve become an evangelist, sending masks to every sleepless person I know — and, over time, to the vain as well.”
For an eye mask that will help lull you to sleep with scent, try the lavender eye pillow that writer Hermione Hoby swears by: “The pillow is filled with organic flaxseed and lavender, which means that when you microwave it for 30 seconds, it becomes a warm, scented beanbag that immediately creates a state of relaxation. (People like to use it during savasana, that part of yoga during which you just lie on the floor. The best part.)”
Some of us may prefer the sensation of foam on the eyes. Actress and Bitch Sesh podcast co-host Casey Wilson recommends the Brookstone NapForm for just such people: “This is my entire worldview and universe. It’s my religion. I love this above any item on this list. I have turned every friend onto them. They’re a comforter over your eyes. It’s not a janky mask where light comes in from every corner, and you’re like, ‘Why do I use this?’ This blocks out all light, and is so decadent. I have one in every purse and wear it on airplanes, or really just anywhere I want to fall asleep in five seconds. I’m never without one. I have a lot of panic if I don’t have them. If I go on vacation, I need to bring two. If you’re in a bad hotel with lights that peek through the curtains, it’s pitch-black. You’re only alone with your thoughts, which is maybe not a good thing.”
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