Do Blackout Curtains Help You Sleep Better? The Pros and Cons

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Medical Disclaimer: The following article is for informational purposes only, and should not be taken as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please speak with your doctor.

If you’ve ever been kept up at night by the light shining in through your window, you may have considered buying blackout curtains. But do they work? And are there any drawbacks to using them? 

In this post, we look at the pros and cons of using blackout curtains to help you get a good night’s sleep.

light seeping through the window in night

Tl;dr: Blackout curtains aren’t a magic bullet for better sleep, but they do help make a more conducive environment for slumber. Besides blocking the external light, they also help regulate room temperature and reduce noise levels. All these factors are known to contribute to improved sleep quality. Consider them as one of the tools in your sleep improvement arsenal, but not the only one.

However, note that some people are less sensitive to light than others and may not find blackout curtains as effective. If you have trouble sleeping, it’s best to consult with a doctor to find out the underlying cause.

What is a Blackout Curtain?

Blackout curtains are thicker than a typical window curtain and are made of tightly-woven fabric that does not let light pass through them. They’re designed to completely block out outside light and create a dark and cozy room environment.

If your windows face a highly trafficked street or have an east-facing exposure, you’d particularly appreciate blackout curtains. Also, if you’re easily bothered by sunlight coming through your windows at different times of day, investing in a blackout curtain might be worth it.

How Blackout Curtains May Help You Sleep Better

Blackout curtains create a dark environment, insulate thermal loss, reduce noise, and keep sunlight from entering your room (or waking you up). All of these factors are known to help improve sleep quality.

Let’s take a close look:

1) Keep the Room Dark.

Ideally, while sleeping, the light in your room should be no more than 5 lux. Unwanted light exposure can disrupt your circadian rhythms and make it harder for you to drift off to sleep. 

Sleeping in a pitch-black room has been linked with deeper and longer sleep. When you block out all light, your body can produce more melatonin, which is the hormone that helps you sleep.

A study on night shift workers found that those who used blackout curtains slept an hour longer than those who didn’t.

Another study reports that older people with insomnia who slept in darker rooms slept better and felt more rested during the day. Studies also suggest that sleeping in complete darkness can lower one’s risk of depression.

Blackout curtains work well for night shift workers, those who catch sleep during the daytime, babies, afternoon naps and those generally affected by sunlight.

2) Limits thermal fluctuations.

Blackout curtains help maintain a consistent and comfortable room temperature by reducing the heat that gets transferred from the windows. The thermal insulation is particularly helpful if you have trouble sleeping due to temperature fluctuations.

Blackout curtains add another layer of insulation to the room and keep room heat from escaping in the winter. The thicker fabric of the blackout curtains does a better job of trapping heat than regular curtains, which keeps the room toasty and cozy for a comfortable sleep.

In the summer, blackout curtains can also help keep your room cool by reflecting heat away and out of the room, which would otherwise accumulate inside. This reflection, in turn, prevents the thermal loss of AC cooling and keeps the room cooler overall. Several studies have reported that sleeping in a cool environment promotes deeper sleep.

A bonus: On average, blackout curtains prevent 10 to 25% of thermal loss/gain from the windows and save up to 30% on the energy bills for cooling and heating your room.

3) Reduces Outside Noise.

The thicker fabric of the blackout curtains also doubles as a sound barrier. It’s estimated blackout curtains can absorb up to 25% of the ambient noise.

Strange sounds or loud noises can disrupt your sleep and make falling or staying asleep harder. While some of us may sleep with a white noise machine turned on or doze off to a television’s quiet lull, most people sleep better in silence. 

Blackout curtains reduce outside noise and may lead to improved sleep quality.

Are Blackout Curtains Bad for Sleep?

While there are obvious benefits to blackout curtains, there are also a few potential drawbacks. Common arguments against blackout curtains tend to come down to two similar points: 

1) Loose sense of time

When natural light is completely absent from our bedrooms, our bodies may lose the ability to wake up naturally. Natural light helps us understand what time of day it is, so without it, we lose awareness.

The result is often oversleeping. And oversleeping often correlates with several health conditions such as depression, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. 

Oversleeping can also impact the circadian rhythm, the body’s natural clock that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Being off of one’s regular sleep cycle can lead to difficulties with tasks, such as having a weakened attention span, making it hard to focus or be productive during the day.

When using a blackout curtain, it’s a good idea to invest in a sunrise alarm clock or use motorised blackout curtains that automatically open in the morning.

2) The room would always be dark unless you open the curtains.

The other potential downside to blackout curtains is that the room is dark all the time, even when you’re awake. You would need to open the curtains to let light in, which can sometimes be a hassle (especially if you’re lazy like me).

These oppositional factors will be more relevant to some people than others, so it comes down to your situation, sleep needs, and preferences.

Alternatives To Blackout Curtains.

If you’re not sure if blackout curtains are right for you, a few alternatives can help with some of the same issues.

 

  • Sleep masks: A sleep mask is a good alternative and works very well to block unwanted light exposure. The downside is not everyone would be comfortable wearing a mask through the night.

     

  • Earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones: If outside noise is the main issue, earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones are more effective in reducing the noise than a blackout curtain. The downside is similar to the sleep masks – it’s not always comfortable to wear headphones or earplugs to bed.

     

  • Paint the windows black: It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing solution, but if you’re looking for a cheap way to achieve a near-blackout effect, painting the windows black can work.

Factors to Consider While Picking Blackout Curtains

Once you’ve decided that blackout curtains are right for you, there are still a few factors to consider before making your purchase.

  • The size of your windows: Obviously, the size of your window will dictate how big of a curtain you need. But it’s also essential to consider the height of the curtain. You want the curtains to be long enough to cover the entire window.
  • Motorised or manual: Some blackout curtains come with a motorised system that allows you to open and close the curtains with the push of a button and the option to program them to open and close at certain times. If you want the convenience of a motorised system, be prepared to pay a little extra.
  • Choose Thicker Fabrics: Blackout curtains must be made with heavy, high-density fabric to block light rays effectively. Look for higher GSM (grams per square metre) ratings that indicate the fabric’s thickness. A higher thread count will also create a denser fabric, which blocks light better and offers more privacy. You can consider polyester fabric if you’re looking for something thick and affordable. If price isn’t a concern, choose velvet or suede material.
  • Opt for Dark Colours: Choosing dark colours for your blackout curtains is important because lighter colours may let some light seep through. You may find colourful options, but they’re not as effective at blocking out light. Some good colours to consider are black, dark grey, navy blue, and graphite.
  • Consider Quality & Price: Avoid cheap blackout curtains with cardboard or foam backing as some of them aren’t even machine washable, and others may lose effectiveness with each wash. It’s essential to find a balance between quality and price. Generally, $50 to $100 per panel is a good range to aim for.
  • Factor in Maintenance & Care: Polyester blackout curtains are machine washable, velvet ones need to be dry cleaned and cardboard backed curtains cannot be washed. So it’s crucial to factor in the cost of care and maintenance when making your purchase.

The Bottomline

Your curtains might not be able to fix your morning schedule or rid you of your snoring neighbour, but if you can improve your sleep quality with one purchase, it might be worth giving blackout curtains a try.

You can also consider other options to create a comfortable sleep environment like your wall colours, keeping plants in your room or using healing crystals.

James Lee

James Lee

James is the content director at WhatASleep, a certified sleep science coach from Spencer Institute and our in-house sleep product expert. Over three years, he's personally tested hundreds of mattresses. He likes to keep his reviews simple, objective, and straightforward so that the readers don't have to go through decision fatigue which is often the case while shopping for sleep products.

He hails from Sydney and has a journalism degree from the University of Queensland and an MBA from Melbourne Business School.

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