We’ve all heard the cliche about “getting plenty of beauty sleep,” and it’s certainly true that sleep is important for your health. The term "beauty sleep” was first coined in 1828, when it was thought that going to sleep before midnight would improve your appearance.
While that idea may not necessarily be true, sleep does have lots of health benefits and is essential for your survival. Getting enough sleep can also reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, help you maintain a healthy body weight, and generally improve your mood.
So, can sleep really have an effect on your appearance? Is beauty sleep real? Read on to find out what researchers have to say.
How Much Sleep Do We Actually Need?
The amount of sleep you need every night varies from person to person. Factors such as age and genetics can all have an impact. In general, healthy adults should aim to get at least seven hours of sleep a night.
Because everyone is different, how much sleep you need can also depend on lifestyle factors, like your daily activities and overall health. The quality of the sleep can also be quite important when it comes to feeling well rested. Taking these factors into account can help you figure out your ideal amount of sleep.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Not getting adequate sleep is associated with a number of health problems. Lack of sleep can leave you more susceptible to infection and sickness. It can also affect how fast you are able to recover if you do get sick.
While you sleep, your immune system releases cytokines. Appropriate modulation and production of certain types of cytokines may be necessary for sleep.
You also need cytokines to heal an infection or inflammation. Not getting enough sleep can decrease the production of these cytokines, leaving you more vulnerable to infection.
Studies show that lack of sleep can lead to weight gain and increases your chance of obesity. Sleep deprivation also has a negative effect on your brain function, including your attention span, working memory, long-term memory, and decision making. It may also affect your mood and increase anxiety.
Lack of sleep can also put you at risk for developing serious health conditions, including cardiovascular disease. It can also affect your body’s ability to regulate glucose, putting you at risk for type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.
How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
To ensure you are getting plenty of quality shut-eye, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following tips:
- Have a consistent sleep schedule and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Be mindful of when you eat and drink. Try not to go to bed hungry, but avoid large meals within a few hours of bedtime. You should also aim to limit nicotine, caffeine and alcohol, as they can all interfere with a good night’s sleep.
- Create a restful environment free of screens and keep your room quiet and dark.
- Limit long naps during the day. If you do need a nap, don’t nap for more than an hour, and avoid napping late in the day.
Is Beauty Sleep Real?
Sleep affects pretty much every aspect of your health—but does it affect your appearance too? Well, some research shows that sleep in general can in fact have an effect on appearance.
In one 2013 study, researchers took photographs of 10 different people after a normal night of sleep and again after thirty-one hours of sleep deprivation. The observers noted that the subjects in the sleep deprivation photos had hanging eyelids, redder eyes, swollen eyes, dark circles under the eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles and fine lines, and droopy corners of the mouth.
Studies have also shown that sleep deprivation can increase physical signs of aging and negatively affect your skin barrier, which is the outermost layer of skin. Damage to your skin barrier can cause acne and other skin disorders.
Even just one night of sleep deprivation has been shown to negatively affect the skin on your face. It can cause a decrease in skin hydration, which makes the skin less elastic and more dry, rough, or flaky. Sleep deprivation can also increase the size of facial pores.
Sleep loss has also been shown to increase the levels of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone, and it can cause or exacerbate acne and inflammation of the skin.
Getting a good amount of sleep has been shown to boost your self esteem. Those who generally get good sleep have reported having much higher satisfaction with their appearance and physical attractiveness. Interestingly, a 2017 study noted that observers identified themselves as being less likely to hang out with someone who looks visibly sleep deprived.
How Sleep Affects Your Skin
As we’ve discussed, the amount and quality of sleep you get are important for your health. But there are many other benefits of beauty sleep that can also have a big impact on your skin health.
Studies show that poor sleep quality is associated with intrinsic aging and diminished skin barrier function. Other research notably found that test subjects who had better quality sleep tended to recover more efficiently to stressors on the skin.
If you’re concerned about your skin health, consult a dermatologist or medical professional to learn more about how you can protect and care for your skin.
How to Make the Most of Your Beauty Sleep
We’ve already shared a few recommendations for sleep hygiene and getting better sleep in general, but how can you increase your beauty rest? Here are some tips to take care of your skin while sleeping:
1) Sleep With a Copper Oxide Pillowcase
Studies show that sleeping with copper pillows can lead to fewer wrinkles. This is because copper can help increase the secretion of proteins that help stabilize and maintain your skin. You can buy pillowcases that are infused with copper oxide and reap the benefits of this skin-enhancing mineral.
2) Take a Warm Shower Or Bath Before Bed
Taking a warm shower or bath before bed has been shown to improve sleep quality and make it easier to fall asleep.
Steam helps your skin produce collagen and improves circulation, which can help reduce wrinkles. So, if you take a warm bath or shower before you do your nightly skin care routine, there is a chance that you’ll sleep better while keeping your skin feeling healthy.
3) Apply Moisturizer or Night Cream Before Bed
Depending on the environment you are sleeping in (humid or dry spaces), your skin can also become dehydrated. Sleeping in a cool, dry place may help your skin look and feel hydrated the next day.
Using an evening moisturizer can also be beneficial. A good practice during your skincare routine is to apply your moisturizer after washing your face, when your skin is still damp.
4) Use a Wedge Pillow To Elevate Your Head
A wedge pillow is specially formulated to elevate your head while sleeping. Elevating your head can help reduce eye swelling while you sleep, which can help you avoid the dark under-eye circles that are a tell-tale sign of a lack of sleep.
Sleeping with your head elevated can also help you breathe easier while sleeping and reduce snoring. These are all factors which all of which may help you get a better night’s sleep. In individuals with obstructive sleep apnea, sleeping with their head elevated has been shown to reduce symptoms.
5) Use Essential Oils
While the benefits of essential oils are sometimes debated, one study found that essential oil aroma stimulation with scents such as lavender may help improve sleep quality. Researchers observed that individuals experienced more slow wave, or deep sleep.
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Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer at Nutrisense, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.