Sleep is increasingly recognised as being key to our general health and wellbeing, with sleep deprivation linked to car crashes, industrial disasters and other occupational errors. People who don’t get enough sleep are also more likely to have long-term health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and obesity, as well as cancer, higher death rates and reduced quality of life and productivity. Unfortunately the pressures of modern life – careers, family life and maintaining cultural standards of beauty – all impact the time available for sleep.
Our bodies operate on a powerful internal 24 hour clock, known as the circadian rhythm (circa means “around” and dian means “day”). This natural cycle helps determine when we want to be awake and when we want to sleep. It also determines other patterns, such as when we prefer to eat and drink, our mood, body temperature, metabolism and various hormones. The 24 hour clock in our brains sends signals to every organ in our body, including our skin.
Research is starting to emerge about the importance of sleep for skin health. Studies indicate that sleep deprivation impairs skin barrier function, vital for keeping moisture in the skin and protecting us from allergy, pollution, infection and other external aggressors. Accelerated skin ageing, evidenced by uneven pigmentation, fine wrinkling and skin laxity, has also been demonstrated in those who have poor quality sleep. Lack of sleep leads to increased secretion of stress hormones such as cortisol, and in turn, stress induces secretion of the neuropeptide Substance P. Both are known to play a substantial role in acne development.
Finally, research shows that people who are sleep-deprived appear less healthy, less attractive and more tired to others compared to when they are well rested. This suggests that we are sensitive to sleep-related facial cues, with potential implications for social judgments and behaviour, such as choosing a sexual partner or deciding which applicant to hire at an interview. Interestingly, a study of almost 500 Brazilian women found no correlation between dark under-eye circles and lack of sleep so this particular myth can now be dispelled!
Consider the following top tips for healthy sleep and healthy skin:
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. It can take 8 hours for the effects to wear off so a cup of coffee in the afternoon may prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.
- Don’t have large meals late at night. You are much more likely to experience indigestion which can disrupt your sleep. The same goes for getting up to urinate every couple of hours if you drink a lot before bed.
- Alcohol before bedtime may help you relax, but disturbs REM sleep meaning you don’t get a deep enough sleep. Many people will end up waking up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol start to wear off.
- Exercise can help you sleep better, but may prevent you from winding down properly if you do it very late in the day. Try to get some form of exercise for 30 minutes each day, but no later than 2 or 3 hours before you plan to go to bed.
- Don’t nap after 3pm.
- Relax before bedtime. Having a hot bath fulfils 2 purposes. Firstly it provides time to unwind from a hectic day, and secondly the drop in body temperature after you get out can make you more sleepy.
- Keep devices out of the bedroom. This includes phones, laptops and televisions, Most of us sleep better if the bedroom is dark and cool too.
- Respecting your circadian rhythm is key to regulating sleep. Get exposure to natural daylight in the mornings and turn down the lights when you’re starting to prepare for bed.
- If you can’t fall asleep for more than twenty minutes, get up and do something to help relax you before trying again. If not, the anxiety of not being able to settle may ultimately make it even harder to fall asleep.
Reference: Walker, M 2017, Why we sleep. The new science of sleep and dreams, Allen Lane, Great Britain.
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