Sleep: the anti-ageing secret

Want vibrant, healthy, younger looking skin? Sleep!

woman sleeping peacefully

Not getting enough sleep not only leaves us feeling tired, irritable and unable to concentrate on our daily routine, but also affects our skin. Who wants dark circles, puffy eye bags, fine lines, and wrinkles? Getting the right amount of sleep is the most important step in your anti-ageing skin care programme; sleep is essential in looking your best at any age. "The skin is the largest organ in the body. When your body is healthy it will manifest first by giving you a glowing, radiant complexion," says dermatologist Diane Berson. When the skin benefits from enough sleep, products and treatments work more effectively to provide better results. This means that the concept of "beauty sleep" is not an old wives' tale.

Too little sleep makes us look and feel tired, and the first place that it shows up is on the face. The most noticeable effects are seen just beneath our eyes: one of the most delicate areas, where the skin is much thinner than the rest of the body. Sufficient sleep is required to maintain a smooth skin texture and a healthy glow.

While you are sleeping...

While we sleep, our bodies take time to restore energy and rebuild tissue and cells. During delta sleep, the fourth and deepest stage of rest, growth hormones peak and initiate cell and tissue repair. This regeneration is the process where fresh, new skin cells replace old, dead skin. Cortisol and insulin production inversely peak during sleeping hours so that collagen production is accelerated and skin becomes firmer. The body also metabolises free radicals, which accelerate ageing and cancerous growths. During sleep, our facial muscles relax, which allows the dermal layers of our skin to rejuvenate, thus helping to smooth wrinkles and fine lines.

In addition, the lying-down position relieves the effect of gravity on the skin, and this helps in reducing the gravitational stress on our facial skin and aids in the reduction of wrinkles.

As our skin is being renewed and restored, some of the stress and harmful effects of daily living [UV rays, pollution, and other harmful environmental elements] too are being reversed. By not getting at least eight hours of sleep, we are robbing our body of its natural process of self-renewal. In fact, a lack of sleep over the course of one single night can result in noticeable changes to the skin, which can be noticed even the next morning. Over a longer period of time, a general lack of sleep can lead to serious health problems and can cause skin damage— wrinkles, poor texture, and discoloration much earlier than in a well-rested individual. Chronic sleep deprivation also impairs host defense, so if the skin is exposed to bacteria or is healing from a lesion, lack of sleep will increase the amount of time it requires to heal. Worse, it may even result in more severe bacterial skin infections.

woman sleeping peacefully

The sleep-acne connection

One of the things that exacerbate acne is stress and missing sleep causes your body to be in stress. When in stress, our body releases adrenaline, which produces more hormones. This in turn increases the production of sebum [oil], which leads to acne. To help reduce stress before you go to bed at night, try a few of these tips: listen to calming music, clean up your bedroom, read a book, take a warm bubble bath, get a massage, write in a journal to help clear your mind, and meditate. Sleep may also be related to acne if you go to bed with make-up on your face.

Your sleeping position matters

If you apply a greasy cream before bed and then sleep on your side or stomach with your face on the pillow, the product can clog your pores and cause breakouts. Then, even if you wash your face the next day, the products are already on your pillowcase. This can potentially influence more breakouts or wrinkles as you will probably sleep on it the next day the same way.

Another thing you should be careful about when sleeping is the habit of sleeping on only one of your sides every night. Believe it or not, lying on the same side of your face every night can cause indentations or holes in the skin.

There are many things that can prevent you from obtaining the right amount of sleep each night. Whether it's a heavy workload, kids who need attention, ageing parents who need assistance, or general stress. However, make sure to give your body the required rest. It is crucial not only for great skin but also for overall wellbeing and longevity.

Keys to sleeping well

  • Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up naturally at the same time every morning [including weekends]
  • Get your required sleep in one continuous block
  • Make up for lost sleep as soon as possible
  • Avoid caffeine after 2pm
  • Stay away from alcohol three hours before bed
  • Don't nap unless you must
  • Quit smoking.

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James Maas
James B. Maas, Ph.D. is Weiss Presidential Fellow and Professor of Psychology at Cornell University. He is co-founder and CEO of the consulting firm, Sleep for Success, which designs programs for enhancing sleep quality and daytime performance.
Laura Justice
Laura E Justice is an independent sales consultant with Mary Kay Cosmetics and has been teaching others how to take care of their skin for over 4 years.
Nathalie Weiss
Nathalie Weiss is a psychology major in the College of Arts & Sciences at Cornell University. She has completed much research with sleep expert Dr James Maas, and has written about sleep throughout her undergraduate career.

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