Getting a good night’s sleep is great for your health in all sorts of ways, from preventing weight gain to lowering stress to boosting memory. One of our all-time favorite sleep benefits, though, is that it keeps you looking young and help you wake up refreshed. Yes, beauty sleep is real, and there’s science backing it up.
“The skin regenerates and rebuilds itself during sleep,” says Tess Mauricio, MD, dermatologist and CEO of M Beauty Clinic in Beverly Hills. “Studies show that peak cell division happens at night, so your skin cells get rebuilt while you are sleeping.”
The body also experiences an increase in growth hormone, which stimulates collagen production, while you’re snoozing, says Jennifer Haley, MD, dermatologist in Arizona. Collagen, a protein, is often referred to as the “building block” of healthy skin.
On the flip side, a bad night’s sleep will definitely show on your face. Here, learn what sleep deprivation does to your skin, plus get tips for maximizing your beauty sleep so that you wake up with a glowing complexion.
How sleep deprivation affects your skin
We’ve already told you all about what happens to your body when you don’t get enough sleep, but the most visible impact sleep deprivation has is on your face. Here are three big ways sleep deprivation messes with your skin.
- Sleep deprivation makes you more likely to develop a skin condition.“Certain cells in the skin have circadian clocks, and if they’re disrupted by loss of sleep or altered sleep patterns—say, you work the night shift—inflammatory diseases like psoriasis are more likely to be present,” says Haley. Sleep loss elevates cortisol (the stress hormone), and this increases inflammation, which contributes to skin conditions like psoriasis, acne, and rosacea, explains Mauricio.
- Sleep deprivation makes you look older. Sleep deprivation means waking up tired, and studies show a correlation between lack of sleep and signs of aging, says Papri Sarkar, MD, dermatologist in Brookline, Mass., and vice president of the New England Dermatological Society. A study commissioned by Esteé Lauder highlighted this connection: 60 women ages 30-49 were split into two groups, poor sleepers and good sleepers, based on how they scored on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. The poor sleepers had more fine lines, uneven skin tone, and sagginess than those who were considered good sleepers. Dark circles and under-eye puffiness are two other skin issues many patients say they experience when they don’t get enough sleep, says Haley.
- Sleep deprivation makes you more susceptible to sun damage. The Esteé Lauder study also found that the women who slept poorly exhibited slower recovery from environmental stressors, like UV exposure. In fact, they experienced peak sunburn redness for more than 72 hours. Meanwhile, the good sleepers retained moisture better (moisturizing is key to healing a sunburn), and therefore their skin was able to repair itself more quickly.
How to get your beauty sleep and wake up refreshed
There are a few steps you can take to get younger-looking skin overnight and wake up refreshed each morning. Here are easy ways to make sure you reap the benefits of beauty sleep.
1. Get enough sleep. Of course, the first beauty sleep tip on our list would have to be making sure you actually fulfill your nightly sleep goal. While how much sleep you really need varies from person to person, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Sleep Foundation, and American Sleep Association all recommend seven to eight hours for 18-60 year olds.
2. Create a relaxing bedroom environment. Set yourself up for beauty sleep success by making your bedroom as stress-free as you can, suggests Sarkar. She recommends no electronics before bed. A study published in PLoS One found that those who used their smartphones longer before bed slept less (and worse) than those who didn’t, while a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences noted that the light from eReaders suppresses melatonin, a hormone necessary for sleep.
Beyond banning your devices, another way to make your bedroom relaxing is to use lavender, which has been proven to improve sleep quality. I put a lavender diffuser on my nightstand so that my bedroom always smells like the tranquil purple flower. You can also try out an eye cover. (Check out our post answering the question: do eye masks help you sleep better?)
3. Wash your face before bed. This is the most important skin care step you can take before you go to sleep, says Haley. If you don’t get rid of all the dirt, oil, and makeup that’s made its way onto your face during the day, your skin won’t be able to rejuvenate itself overnight like it should—plus, if you put skin care products on top of dirty skin, they won’t be able to penetrate, rendering them ineffective. I’m lazy, so I rely on micellar water, which is a no-rinse cleansing option. All I do is pour some onto a cotton pad and wipe it across my face to remove my makeup.
4. Change your pillowcases regularly. Dirty pillowcases can contribute to acne, so it’s important to swap yours out for fresh ones once or twice a week, says Sarkar. This is especially the case if you go to bed with product in your hair that can clog pores, she says. (Here’s how often you should change your sheets.)
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5. Exfoliate once a week. “If you’re trying to fight dullness or target dark spots, using a gentle resurfacing acid before bed followed by a nourishing moisturizer once a week is helpful,” says Sarkar. She recommends glycolic, lactic, and salicylic to brighten, even, and smooth your skin. I like to follow up any exfoliating treatments with a hyaluronic acid moisturizer, as hyaluronic acid has been shown to improve skin hydration.
6. Use a humidifier. If you live in a dry climate, combat overnight skin dryness by setting up a humidifier in your bedroom, suggests Mauricio. I use this humidifier from Amazon all year long because my apartment is dry and stuffy. Mauricio also recommends moisturizing and dabbing on an eye cream. Caffeine is a good ingredient to look for in an eye cream as it increases blood circulation, which helps depuff the under-eye area.
7. Sleep on your back. Stomach sleepers and side sleepers, take note: Pressing your face into your pillow could actually result in wrinkles, says Haley. That’s why the best sleep position for beauty sleep is on your back. Here’s why: “As you get older, your skin loses collagen, and it doesn’t bounce back the way it used to,” explains Haley. So when you smush your face against your pillow, the wrinkles that form aren’t going to disappear as quickly as they used to. Although there’s no scientific evidence, many people swear by silk pillowcases for preventing facial wrinkles while they sleep—some silk pillowcases even contain copper peptides (copper aids in collagen production), says Haley.
8. Add a retinoid to your pre-bedtime routine. Retinoids are the gold standard of anti-aging ingredients because they rapidly turn over old skin cells, revealing fresher, younger ones underneath. According to a study published in JAMA Dermatology, retinoids, which are a derivative of vitamin A, improve the appearance of wrinkles associated with natural aging. Nighttime is the ideal time to use a retinoid because it degrades in the sunlight, says Sarkar.
“Retinoids should be started slowly and sparingly,” she says. “I recommend using a pea-sized amount of retinoid or retinol twice a week.” (Retinol is a gentler form of vitamin A that is found in OTC skin care products, while retinoids are stronger and what you’ll find in prescription products.) Ideally, you’ll be able to work your way up to using one every other night, but you’ll still see benefits even if you only apply it twice a week before moisturizing, says Sarkar. I added a retinol to my nighttime skin care routine last year, and it may or may not be the reason I sometimes still get carded!