Beauty sleep: why you really need it

Zara Kassam BSc (Hons), MRes, PhD Researcher

A good night’s sleep is a must if you want good skin. Zara Kassam explains why.

On our endless quest searching for the magical cream or serum that will fight wrinkles and eliminate blemishes, we may be missing one of the most important ingredients for our complexion woes: sleep.

Getting beauty sleep isn’t a new concept, but it is becoming harder to achieve as modern sleep disruptors from stress to smartphones follow us under the covers.

Most of us have witnessed the adverse impact on the face caused by just one night of sleep deprivation. Sleep is food for your brain, body, and skin, and if you don’t get enough, you deprive each of its nourishment. Few people are aware, however, that chronic insomnia inflicts significant damage to skin tissues that range from premature aging to exacerbating disorders such as eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis.

So how does sleep affect the way we look? A study carried out by the Department for Clinical Neuroscience in Sweden, found that people who had 8 hours or more versus the sleep-deprived were rated as healthier and less tired but also as more attractive;  while visible signs of sleeplessness like dark circles and dull skin were clear, there’s even more hidden damage below the surface.


Sleep and hormones

To maintain healthy, youthful-looking skin, experts recommend you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night and that’s because, as we sleep growth hormones are released both at the beginning and in the late stages of sleep, which help stimulate skin cell production, collagen synthesis and a slow the rate of protein breakdown. In other words, it is the nightly influx of growth hormones that stimulates skin repair. These hormones are only released during deep sleep, when the body and brain are able to fully recover from the day’s stresses and activities. If we deprive our bodies of sleep we don’t release this growth hormone, and in turn, release more of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been found to speed up the break down of collagen, which lays a key role the smoothness and suppleness of our skin.



But it can do a host of other nasty things too. Scientists have discovered that elevated levels of cortisol can interfere with the body’s immune response as well. The result can be inflamed skin, acne breakouts and worsening eczema and psoriasis, and studies show can also make allergic and irritant contact dermatitis worse as well.  A sleep deficit can also affect our ‘skin barrier’ – the protective outer layer of our skin that helps prevent excessive water loss (ie keeps your skin hydrated) and keeps bacteria and other nasties out.


And that’s not all…

Suffice to say there’s a cascade of events that occur when you don’t get enough shut-eye. But, it doesn’t end there.

Scientists have linked insomnia and skin disorders to the disruptive effects an excess of glucocorticoids can have on the immune system. Glucocorticoids are a class of hormones that regulates the way we break down and use glucose or sugar in our bodies, and research has shown that when we don’t get enough sleep our body produces more glucocorticoids than we need.

Now, every cell in the human body possesses receptors for glucocorticoids and they play a central role in immune function, but having too much can accelerate the aging process via a process called glycation – and as skin is the largest organ in our body, the effects show there. Glycation affects the collagen  in our cells making it stiff and malformed which shows up as wrinkles, sagginess and loss of radiance.

So all in all, sleep deprivation can lead to a dehydrated complexion, redness, inflammation and breakouts, and premature skin aging. When we don’t get enough sleep the moisture levels in our skin decreases resulting in less youthful, dull looking skin.

The good news is that these things will improve over time if you manage to get a good night’s sleep.



Tips for a better night’s sleep

  • Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
  • Establish a regular sleeping routine and stick to it. If you go to bed at the same time often, the link between night time and sleep will be strengthened.
  • Turn off your phone or laptop a couple of hours before going to bed.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid caffeine 4 hours before bedtime.
  • Limit alcohol and heavy meals before sleep.
  • Get regular exercise and keep a healthy diet.

Remember beauty sleep isn’t an old cliché — it’s a must for healthy youthful skin.