Want to be more alert at work or in school? Scientists found that the simple gesture of wearing an eye mask during overnight sleep improves cognitive function and enhances a person’s level of alertness the next day.

In a study published in the journal Sleep, a team of researchers sought to determine the benefits of wearing eye masks while sleeping. According to them, since ambient light can influence sleep structure and timing, they decided to examine how an eye mask that blocks light affects memory and alertness.

“We explored how wearing an eye mask to block light during overnight sleep impacts memory and alertness, changes that could benefit everyday tasks like studying or driving,” they wrote.

The team conducted two experiments. The first one involved 94 participants aged 18 to 35. They wore eye masks during overnight sleep for a week and did not wear any the following week. After collecting data, the researchers found that the participants had superior episodic encoding and improved alertness during the week when they used the masks.

For the second experiment, 35 participants aged 18 to 35 used a wearable device to monitor sleep with and without the masks. The team observed similar memory encoding benefits.

“Sleep is crucial for alertness and for preparing the human brain to encode new information. However, it can be disrupted by external stimuli such as light or sounds. This study explored wearing an eye mask as a potential cognitive enhancer which protects overnight sleep by blocking ambient light,” the scientists explained.

They continued, “We found that wearing a mask increased alertness and facilitated the encoding of novel information the next day. Furthermore, the benefit to memory was predicted by time spent in slow-wave sleep while wearing the mask. This suggests wearing an eye mask during sleep is an effective, economical and noninvasive behavior that could benefit cognitive function and lead to measurable impacts on everyday life.”

Previous sleep studies showed good sleep is vital for the healthy functioning of the brain and body. Lack of quality sleep can negatively affect a person’s alertness during the day. Some research found that ambient sources of light disrupt and affect sleep, making the new study relevant to the present and helpful for future sleep research efforts.

“Wearing an eye mask overnight can be an effective and inexpensive solution for improving and benefit cognitive performance,” study author Viviana Greco, a Ph.D. candidate at Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre, told PsyPost.

The Researcher freelance associate editor added, “Our results speak about improved reaction times and improved memory performance. The implications of our results are significant on many daytime tasks like driving a car or any educational or cultural context that requires learning.”

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