Is It Really Beauty Sleep?: How Sleep Affects Your Skin


by Natalie K Bell

As I write this, I’m exhausted. After spending the last few days in a tizzy of trying to cram everything in every day, I’m spent. I also favored activities over slumbering, which means I’m tired and not looking my best. My eyes feel cartoonishly puffy, I can feel my skin rebelling into a breakout, and it’s all perpetuated by the guilt I feel for admitting it in the midst of beauty advice. But I’m being honest with you as a cautionary tale for anyone who’s skimping on sleep. Not catching enough zzz’s won’t just leave you tired, it will leave you skin looking sad and your skin looking dull.

Sleep Stages

Sleep Cycle
During the third and fourth stages of sleep, the body begins its processes of restoration (Photo credit: andrewyang)

A sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes and repeats itself through the night (National Sleep Foundation). The first two stages are the process of falling asleep, but during the third and fourth stage the body begins its process of restoration. Tissue is regenerated and repaired, and essential hormones are released to mend skin elasticity and smooth wrinkles (Better Nutrition, 2010). Endorphins and oxytocin are at their highest at this point, which means they are most prime to heal inflammation.

During the sleep cycle, the skin is able to better absorb nutrients, according to Dr. David E. Bank (January 2008 issue of Health Magazine). The basal body temperature is slightly more elevated at nighttime, helping to increase the penetration of ingredients into the skin.  That’s why it’s crucially important to wash your face and to use moisturizers and antioxidants then. We recommend using your most potent serums and/or moisturizers at night, such as those with high concentrations of retinoids, peptides, niacinamide, hydroquinone, or antioxidants.  For hydration, we also like Skinceuticals Renew Overnight — for combination/oily or dry skin — on your face at night.

Sleep Stress

Stress (journal)
Sleep more, and you’ll stress less.

When you aren’t sleeping enough, you’re more stressed. A psychobiological study done to examine sleep deprivation found that subjects were less able to maintain a happy mood. They also demonstrated negatively impacted cognitive function during stress testing International Journal of Psychophysiology, 2010). Which leads to a simple logic problem: Stress leads to poorer skin quality. So if sleeplessness leads to stress and stress leads to poor skin quality, then sleeplessness leads to poor skin quality (Medical Hypotheses, 2010).

And in case you don’t know what stress does to your skin…

The top layer of your skin has a ton of nerve endings that send out signals, or neurotransmitters, to tell other cells that the message has been received, explains Daniel Yarosh, Ph.D. (The New Science of Perfect Skin). He goes on to say that “Excessive released of neurotransmitters suppresses the immune system and constricts blood flow, resulting in the sallow, tired skin we recognize in anxious friends and overtaxed coworkers.” Studies have shown that stress can negatively affect barrier function.

The Bottom Line

Shut those peepers, Sleeping Beauty, and making sure you’re getting enough shut-eye. Estimates for how much adults need ranges from 7-9 hours, with no right numbers of hours for everyone (National Sleep Foundation). There’s also no need to get it all at once. It’s totally acceptable — and by acceptable I mean natural — to sleep fewer than that many hours and pay off your sleep debt in an afternoon nap. So next time you consider forgoing sleep, just remember what it would do to that beauty face of yours.

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