For me, the most disarming thing about daylight savings isn’t that it’s getting darker earlier. Instead, it’s waking up at some odd hour in the early morning and noticing that it’s… brighter than expected. Surely, with all this sunlight in the room, it must be time for me to get ready to go to work, I think to myself. Wrong! That bastard sun now arrives a whole hour earlier, waking me before my time. My boyfriend, however, sleeps soundly, undisturbed by the fact that our bedroom looks like a Walmart because of a habit he’s had for years: wearing a beanie over his face.
He’s not alone. Many men shun the traditional eye mask in favor of, basically, whatever cloth object they can find. My entire life, my father has slept with whatever clothing item is closest to him before bed over his eyes. One of his T-shirts is his item of choice, but in a pinch, he’s been known to use my mother’s skirt, a towel, what have you.
In fairness to these men, light plays a significant role in our sleep cycle. Our bodies are naturally adjusted to sleeping at night, when it’s dark: As the sun sets, our melatonin levels rise and our body temperature falls. Then, as the sun rises, the inverse occurs. Our bodies are generally extremely dumb and inconsiderate, ignoring the fact that we may have to work graveyard shifts, travel to different time zones or simply just want to take a goddamn nap during the afternoon. That tricky melatonin makes all of these things a challenge when we try to get some sleep while it’s bright out, and as such, we often have to #hack our bodies by tricking our brain into thinking it’s dark by covering our eyeballs.
Without an eye mask on hand, people have had to improvise, and soon, these improvisations become habits. “It started when I slept with a blanket over my head, but that takes the oxygen out,” my father says, who needed to block the light after taking a job that required him to sleep during the day. “The air gets stale. But if you use a shirt, it leaves your mouth totally free to breathe fresh air.”
Now, although my dad is once again a night-sleeper, he still uses the T-shirt method. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s day or night, it’s become a habit,” he says. In fact, he struggles to sleep without it.
The same is true of my boyfriend and his beanie. He first discovered the sleep utility of the beanie during a long car ride: With the hat on his head pulled over his eyes, it functions almost as both eye mask and pillow. Now, though, he uses a beanie every night. “I sleep deeper with it,” he insists.
It would seem that developing a reliance upon covering one’s eyes to sleep could be detrimental, but for both my boyfriend and my father, it hasn’t yet been much of an issue. In fact, some argue that everyone should be using an eye-covering of some sort: This article in Shape, for example, makes the case for eye masks, citing two studies emphasizing the importance that darkness has upon the quality of our sleep.
In one, researchers from the Nara Medical University School of Medicine in Japan found a correlation between night-time light exposure in the elderly. In another, researchers from the University of New Mexico found that people living in pre-industrial societies in Tanzania, Bolivia and Namibia slept only an average of 5.7 hours per night, theorizing that a lack of artificial light allows for more restful sleep over a shorter amount of time. Another article even claims that eye masks could help protect your eyes from becoming too dry in the night.
With all that in mind, I asked my boyfriend and my father why they don’t just make the switch to eye masks, but neither are interested — my father claims they let more light in than his T-shirts, and my boyfriend says he “hasn’t had success” with them.
Sure, they could probably buy some kind of premium eye mask, strategically designed for maximum light-blocking. But why would they do that when they’ve got perfectly good laundry to do the trick?