There are innumerable skin care products used to repair and rejuvenate skin. Bathrooms become littered with such items as we search for ones that actually work. But the simple fact is that no product, no matter how good it is, can even begin to replace the skin benefits of proper deep sleep every night. Sleep is where most epidermal recovery takes place, and is why the concept of ‘beauty rest’ is so very real. Unfortunately for our skin, the stresses of modern living and our hi tech distractions have chipped away at sleep quality for many. In this article we will examine sleep’s effect on the body and skin in particular. We will also look at things that both hinder and promote sleep quality as well as ways to help fall asleep faster.
Why Do We Sleep?
Some evolutionary theories suggest that humans evolved to sleep in order to conserve energy and avoid nighttime predators (1) . While that definitely makes sense, science is now finding that the true reason for sleep is to restore and rejuvenate the body in a number of important ways(2). Sleep is absolutely critical for survival and in fact, animals deprived entirely of sleep lose all immune function and die in just a matter of weeks. Other findings have shown that many of the major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only, during sleep. Other crucial restorative aspects of sleep relate to the brain and cognitive function. Sleep has been correlated to changes in the structure and organization of the brain. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on people’s ability to learn and perform a variety of tasks.
What Happens To My Skin When I Sleep?
Sleep is the time when your body repairs itself and that includes your epidermis along with your muscles and brain. During sleep, your skin’s blood flow increases, and the organ rebuilds its collagen and repairs damage from UV exposure. This reduces wrinkles and age spots. Your skin’s temperature increases and also loses moisture as sebum (skin oil) production is lowest during this time.
How Does Lack of Sleep Affect My Skin?
So if proper sleep repairs skin, then what happens when we don’t get enough? First of all, your cortisol, a stress hormone, increases and that leads to a general state of pro-inflammation. That sets the stage for a number of potential negative impacts. Unsurprisingly, research even says that one night of poor sleep can cause:
- hanging eyelids
- swollen eyes
- darker under eye circles
- paler skin
- more wrinkles and fine lines
- more droopy corners of the mouth
A 2017 study found that two days of sleep restriction negatively affected participant’s perceived attractiveness, health, awareness, and trustworthiness. Continued lack of sleep can make these temporary effects more permanent.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Humans need the most sleep as infants at 14-17 hours per night. As we age we gradually need less sleep until we reach adulthood (age 18-25). All adults and seniors (65+) need a minimum of 7 hours per night according to both the Mayo Clinic and the Sleep Foundation. It is worth reinforcing here that 7 hours is the minimum amount, and up to 9 hours is considered perfectly normal. The amount of sleep needed is heavily influenced by the quality of sleep, which may account for why some need more than others.
Do I Need ‘Deep’ Sleep?
In referring to the quality of sleep, what we are mostly talking about is ‘deep’ sleep. Sleep occurs in 4 separate stages with deep sleep being the final and most essential when it comes to healing the body and feeling rested. During deep sleep you are completely relaxed and your breathing, heartbeat, body temperature, and brain waves reach their lowest levels. Stage 4 is known as the healing stage because this is when tissue growth and repair take place, important hormones are released and cellular energy is restored. Recent research has shown that this stage is accompanied by delta frequency brain waves passing through the corpus callosum connecting the two hemispheres of the brain. It is theorized that this brain activity may account for cleaning out information we don’t need as well as moving memories from short to long term storage. It is essential for adults to get 1-2 hours of deep sleep during the night.
Can I Get Too Much Sleep?
If you consistently need more than 9-10 hours of sleep it could be a sign that something is out of balance since most adults do not need more than that. There is some evidence suggesting that sleeping more than needed might cause health problems. Interestingly though, other research has shown that there are ‘long sleepers’ who sleep 10-12 hours with no ill health effects.
Things That Hinder Good Sleep
Let’s look at some things we should avoid if we want a good night sleep. First of all, substances that can keep you from deep sleep should be avoided long before bedtime. Caffeine has a long half life – between 4-6 hours. This means that up to six hours after drinking a caffeinated beverage, half of the caffeine you consumed is still present in your body and, if it’s bedtime, keeping you from falling asleep. Alcohol, although a depressant that can make you pass out, actually impairs the quality of REM sleep. Stress is another huge factor that keeps people up. Stress raises the hormone cortisol, which triggers our fight or flight response and makes it harder to fall asleep and fragments the sleep we do get. The last big thing I will mention is technology. Being in a brightly lit room or using your laptop, tablet or phone right before bed slows your sleep hormones from kicking in and making you sleepy.
Things That Promote Good Sleep
- Exercise. Getting exercise will help you sleep better, period. The exercise not only tires out your muscles but it relieves stress as well. Exercise is not a magic bullet, but it’s the first place to start if you are having trouble sleeping. There’s something for everyone, so find something you can enjoy and try to get sweaty! Just don’t do it right before bed.
- Diet. You’ll sleep better if you don’t eat or drink late at night. Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon. It has a long half life and takes several hours to clear out of your system. Avoid alcohol before bed because it disturbs REM sleep. In general a diet that avoids processed foods improves everything in the body and that includes sleep.
- Wind down. Start a winding-down process about an hour before bed by just dimming or turning out most of the lights and dimming the screen on any devices. Doing this will kickstart your sleep hormones and signal your body that sleep is coming. Return to doing what you were doing until about 20 minutes before bed. Now, it’s time to pull yourself away from all devices/media and continue your wind down. Do whatever you like that is relaxing and doesn’t involve shining light into your eyes. You could lie in bed and read, meditate, journal or listen to relaxing music. I often do some light stretching and deep breathing.
- Stay on a schedule. We have a body clock that runs on what is known as a “circadian rhythm”, a loop connected to sunrise and sunset. It has been proven that if we stick to a consistent sleep schedule we will sleep better. You may have noticed that staying up late on weekends and sleeping in doesn’t really make you feel as rested as when you are on your normal sleep schedule even though you technically got the same number of hours in bed.
- Room Environment. A comfortable, supportive bed is important but probably not as important as the room being as dark and quiet as possible. All devices should be on “do not disturb”. Also, the room should also be on the cool side, rather than warm. In fact being too hot can be worse than noise.
Tricks for Falling Asleep Faster
OK, so you exercised, avoided caffeine, wound down successfully and should be well prepared for dreamland but still can’t seem to nod off? There are a few easy things to try that have worked for me.
- White Noise. First off is having a white noise machine. A fan works also but uses more power and takes up more room. I should warn you that having one of these can be addictive and when I travel I miss it and usually feel I don’t sleep as well without it. It drowns out any little weird sounds that might disturb my sleep and it gives my brain something to focus on that just knocks me right out. I have tried the digital and mechanical versions and to me, the mechanical is superior.
- Count Backwards. Breath slowly and deeply while focusing on your toes and try to relax and become aware of each individual toe one at a time. Start with a big toe and then move to the one next to it until you have done all 10 toes on both feet. If you are still awake then continue slow deep breaths and start mentally counting backwards from 100 on each exhale. I don’t think I’ve ever made it into the 70s before I’m out.
- Guided Meditation. There are many apps and youtube sources for these. Just listen and let your guide take you on a relaxing journey to sleepytown. Like a bedtime story for adults! Before finding these, I sometimes fell asleep listening to nature documentaries on low volume which also worked pretty well.
- Binaural Beats. This one requires headphones. Binaural beats work by playing overlapping frequencies in each ear in such a way that the brain hears a ‘beat’ and syncs with it. By tuning brainwave frequencies in this way to those of sleep you will sleep faster, better and deeper.
- CBD. CBD is a natural substance derived from hemp that is non-intoxicating and has no side effects. It’s not a sleep drug, per se but does help the body and mind relax which does promote falling asleep faster.
Sleep is essential to healing and repairing the body and mind. No product can replace the skin benefits of proper sleep. Lack of sleep will leave your skin and mind less clear than they would be otherwise. Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep every night and should stay on a consistent sleep schedule. There are simple things you can do to promote good sleep such as exercising and watching what you eat and drink before bed. It also helps to have a wind down process that you start well before trying to go to sleep. A quiet, cool, and dark sleeping environment is best. And finally if you did everything right but still can’t sleep there are some simple tricks you can try that will help you doze off.