We’ve all heard the expression ‘get your beauty sleep’ before. But how much of a role does sleep actually play in helping us look our best? And what does chronic sleep deprivation do to our appearance? Increasingly, studies are showing how a lack of sleep takes a toll on the skin, eyes, and even the waistline.
The skin you’re in
During deep, slow-wave sleep, the body produces more human growth hormone (HGH), which repairs cells throughout the body—including skin cells. After a couple of nights of poor sleep, you’ll notice your skin looking tired. After a week, others will notice too. Good sleep is critical to skin’s appearance and health, thanks to the role HGH plays in producing collagen, the protein that delays wrinkles by maintaining skin’s firmness and elasticity. Research shows that sleep deprivation interferes with collagen production and can weaken the integrity of the skin.
One key benefit of sleep for beauty is that it gives skin time to rebuild itself. Your skin is a barrier against daily stress – protecting you from pollution, the sun’s rays, extremes of humidity, microbes and more.Skin cells regenerate more rapidly at night, thanks to increased blood flow to the skin. Collagen – the protein responsible for maintaining skin’s plumpness and elasticity – is also produced as skin cells regenerate.
Before bed is a good time to apply skincare products like retinols, as increased blood flow can help active and moisturising ingredients work more effectively, and boost the skin’s own natural regenerative processes.
While you sleep, your skin has a chance to rest, restore itself and prepare for a new day. It follows that the less you sleep, the less time your skin has to repair, which, over time, affects the tone and texture of your complexion.
A Clinical and Experimental Dermatology study revealed that people who slept between seven and nine hours a night had more hydrated skin, which healed more easily after being exposed to UV light – compared to those who slept five hours or less. The better-rested test subjects also rated themselves as more attractive during self-evaluation.
Just like not smoking, drinking plenty of water, and wearing sunscreen make a real difference to how you age, getting seven to nine hours of sleep also helps you delay the inevitable. Even better, by sleeping on your back instead of your face, you can avoid creating sleep wrinkles.
Look into the eyes
A study in the journal Sleep compared the appearance of people following eight hours sleep versus those who had experienced a period of sleep deprivation, then five hours’ sleep. The subjects who were sleep deprived were perceived to have darker circles, puffier eyes, more wrinkles, and to look sadder than their well-rested counterparts.
We’ve all experienced the swollen eyes that follow a poor night of sleep, or a couple of glasses of wine too many. When you’re lacking sleep, your eyes don’t get to rest, making them dry and irritated, which causes inflammation and puffiness. Along with tension in the tiny muscles around the eyes, tired eyes are also prone to twitching due to muscle fatigue.
Lubricating eyedrops before bed can help soothe and moisturise tired eyes and reduce irritation. Hydrating eye products with lightweight, nourishing plant oils like avocado, blackcurrant and kiwi seed, plus hyaluronic acid will help to reduce the appearance of fine lines. And back sleeping helps to prevent fluid build-up around the eye area.
Lose sleep, gain weight?
When you’re lacking sleep, your body goes through numerous changes that can lead to weight gain. Sleep deprivation affects two key hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. It reduces leptin – a chemical that suppresses appetite and tells the body to burn energy. Meanwhile, ghrelin goes up when you’re short on sleep, triggering hunger. And there’s evidence to suggest that our willpower is compromised – meaning junk food and treats are both more appealing and harder to resist.
And it doesn’t take a long time, or a lot of sleep deprivation, to gain weight. University of Colorado researchers found that in just one week of sleeping about five hours a night, volunteers added an average of just under a kilogram to their total body weight.
Of course, sleep isn’t the only factor in weight management. It depends on genetics, stress, diet and exercise, and underlying health conditions. But research has proven that when sleep hours drop, weight goes on. Enough restorative sleep is also vital to maintaining bone strength and muscle mass as we age. This affects your flexibility and posture, as well as your energy and ability to stay active and exercise, alongside how quickly you heal after an injury.
So it seems that getting regular, plentiful sleep needs to be right at the top of our daily (or should that be nightly?) beauty routines.