You’ve heard the expression “get your beauty sleep” before, and maybe written it off as a cliché. That is, until you look in the mirror after a long night of little sleep, and see the dark circles, puffiness, and tired eyes staring back at you.
The truth is that there’s science behind beauty sleep and it isn’t just an old wive’s tale. Getting plenty of sleep can actually be the best thing you can do for your skin. Simply put, sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your skin, making you look older, unhealthier, and unhappier than you actually are.
That’s not even the worst of it – when you “look tired”, research has found that other people make judgements about your capacity for social interaction. What this means is that they could be making snap judgements about your professional abilities and whether they want to be your friend (or date you), all because you didn’t get enough sleep!
How sleep helps skin
Be honest, what’s your morning skincare routine like? Do you apply multiple lotions, serums, and cosmetics trying to stop the hands of time, and hide the fact that you’re completely exhausted?
It’s important to realise that getting plenty of quality rest isn’t going to eliminate all of your skin woes. After all, everything from your diet to the environment can contribute to fine lines, breakouts, among other issues. What getting enough sleep will do, though, is give you a more youthful appearance and glow to start with, eliminating many of the skin problems that frustrate you in the first place.
That’s because sleep does more than just give you a chance to rest and recharge your batteries. While you’re sleeping, your body naturally cleanses toxins from your blood, and generates new, healthy blood cells.
If you aren’t getting enough rest, though, cell regeneration slows and older and dead cells can prevent your skin from receiving all of the nourishment it needs. This leads to a sallow and dull complexion. But when you get enough sleep, old cells are replaced with new, healthy ones, ensuring you wake up refreshed with glowing skin.
Sleep doesn’t just feed your skin from the inside out, though. Inadequate sleep also messes with your skin’s moisture levels and pH balance. When the pH isn’t balanced, your skin cannot effectively regulate moisture, so you might have increased dehydration (which only amplifies the appearance of fine lines), redness, or uneven skin tone. Imbalanced pH can also trigger breakouts.
Getting plenty of rest also triggers other processes that improve your skin and appearance, such as:
Cortisol production decreases
The stress hormone cortisol is responsible for your natural fight-or-flight response to stress, but it also helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle, energy levels, blood sugar, and blood pressure. While you’re sleeping, production decreases, giving your skin a chance to recover from daytime damage.
Conversely, without enough sleep, cortisol levels remain high, increasing the effects of pollution, UV rays, and other daily skin stressors.
Collagen production increases
Collagen is vital to healthy and youthful looking skin, as it helps filter toxins and gives your skin structure. While you can stimulate collagen production through your diet, supplements, skincare tools, and procedures, sleep is one of the best ways to keep your skin looking healthy and supple as well as reducing the appearance of fine lines.
Again, sleep helps regulate the production of cortisol. Too much cortisol not only decreases the production of collagen, but it also triggers matrix metalloproteinases, or a breakdown of the collagen and elastin in your skin. Over time, this affects skin integrity, decreasing the thickness and elasticity of your skin, and increasing the appearance of wrinkles.
Maintaining adequate levels of collagen can slow the natural signs of ageing, especially since the more collagen you have, the more your body naturally produces.
Better blood circulation
While you sleep, blood flow to your skin increases, giving your skin a healthy, youthful glow. But when you don’t get enough rest, your blood vessels dilate, causing dark circles under your eyes. The effect is only exacerbated when your skin is pale and sallow from a lack of sleep.
And since a lack of sleep also causes fluid retention, your eyes may look puffy, or even cast shadows under your eyes, making them look darker – and you’ll appear more tired.
Melatonin production increases
Melatonin isn’t just a supplement for dealing with jet lag – it’s a natural hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle, and production increases when it’s dark. Staying up and exposed to light blocks melatonin production, which not only makes it harder to sleep, but also affects your skin.
A growing number of skincare products are formulated with melatonin because the hormone can actually trigger the production of certain antioxidants and antioxidant enzymes that protect against UV damage. These antioxidants naturally occur when you sleep while your skin cells regenerate.
Bottom line? When your body produces adequate melatonin, your skin is better able to manage the effects of free radicals and environmental stressors, reducing the signs of ageing and helping you maintain a youthful appearance.
How to maximise the benefits of sleep in your skin
Clearly, the benefits of beauty sleep are real. So how can you maximise them to keep your complexion looking its best?
Wash your face: Sleep helps your skin repair itself but heading to bed with makeup, dirt, and pollution on your skin is only going to make that harder to do. Those irritants can get into your pores and cause breakouts, dryness, enlarged pores, and other skin problems. Washing your face with a gentle cleanser before heading to bed ensures a clean slate for your skin’s natural processes to do their job.
Sleep in the right position: Your sleep environment can also make a difference to how well your skin recovers and responds to rest. Sleeping with your head slightly elevated, for instance, can help keep fluid from pooling and causing puffiness.
Sleep on the right fabric: The fabric on your pillowcase can also make a difference to your face. Sleeping on rough cotton sheets, for instance, can cause slight tugging on your skin, contributing to wrinkles and fine lines. The excess friction can also trigger breakouts. Sleeping on a silk pillowcase, or the softest Pima or Egyptian cotton you can afford can help protect your skin.
Maintain the right sleep environment: Soft sheets are only the beginning of a healthy sleep environment. Sleep in a cool, dark, and quiet room to help your body sleep better and more easily.
Limit blue light exposure: Remember, darkness is important to supporting melatonin production, so that means putting your devices away and limiting blue light exposure, which is most disruptive to sleep and melatonin production. Limit exposure to blue light for at least 90 minutes before you go to bed to ensure good sleep and skin. Natural light can also disrupt your sleep, so using blackout drapes and placing your bed out of direct sunlight can help you stay asleep while also reducing your exposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays.
Reduce stress: Stress and sleep are also closely linked, with excess stress likely to keep you awake at night. Stress also tends to show itself on your skin. Making an effort to reduce your stress and wind down at night, can improve your sleep and overall appearance.
Exercise: Working out a few hours before bed can help keep your stress down and improve sleep. Hit the gym when your workday is over, between the hours of 5pm and 7pm. This will provide a boost of endorphins that can help keep stress in check throughout the evening, while also making you tired, so it’s easier to drift off. Avoid working out too close to bedtime, though, as that will only keep you awake.
So, if you are sleep-deprived, work on getting more rest to improve your skin and your health. Commit to a regular bedtime, and stick to it even on the weekends. Once you start getting enough sleep, you’ll not only feel more energised and rested, but you’ll look it too.
Just imagine being able to say “I woke up like this,” and actually mean it.