We’ve all heard the expression “beauty sleep.” Have you wondered if there is anything behind these words? Does getting adequate rest really help us look better? The answer is YES, and it goes beyond the obvious dark circles that show up under our eyes when we don’t get enough rest.
Up until a few years ago, the idea that sleep deprivation made us age faster was just speculation. That was until mid-2000s, when a group of physician-scientists at University Hospitals (UH) Case Medical Center conducted a clinical trial aimed to prove that sleep quality impacts skin function and aging. Their findings showed that poor sleepers had increased signs of skin aging and slower recovery from a variety of environmental stressors, such as disruption of the skin barrier or ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Given that our skin functions as the first line of defense against external stressors such as environmental toxins and sun-induced DNA damage, this was a significant revelation.
Specifically, the researchers found that good quality sleepers recovered more efficiently from stressors to the skin. Recovery from sunburn was more sluggish in poor quality sleepers, with erythema (redness) remaining higher over a 72-hour period, indicating that inflammation is less efficiently resolved. However, I recommend you stay away from the chance of sunburn.
A transepidermal water loss (TEWL) test was used at various time points to determine the ability of the skin to serve as an effective barrier against moisture loss. In measurements 72 hours after a skin barrier stressor (tape-stripping), the recovery of good quality sleepers was 30% higher than poor quality sleepers, demonstrating that they repair the damage more quickly.
This makes sense when you stop to think about it. Cell turnover and regeneration occur during our sleep. This happens for all cells including the cells that support our skin renewal. When we skimp on sleep, we do not allow for our skin to be renewed and refreshed, leading to dull, damaged skin cells.
Skin regeneration and TEWL are not the only areas affected by lack of sleep. It can also increase our cortisol through disruption of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
The HPA axis is an adaptive system with the purpose of maintaining a dynamic equilibrium or homeostasis in the constantly changing hormonal environment of our bodies. Sleep is regulated by the HPA axis in multiple ways, and a growing body of research suggests reciprocal associations between sleep and the activity of the HPA axis. The circadian rhythm of cortisol secretion has a waveform pattern, with the low point for cortisol occurring at about midnight. Cortisol levels start to rise approximately two to three hours after sleep onset and continue to rise into the early morning. With the onset of sleep, cortisol levels continues to decline until they hit the low point again. When one does not get enough sleep, they disrupt the decline part of the cycle, and elevated cortisol is experienced.
Why is this significant? Elevations in cortisol do two things. First, it signals your sebaceous glands to produce more oil, which leads to oily skin, acne and inflammation. The extra cortisol also causes a biochemical reaction that depletes your C and B vitamin stores. Vitamin C is essential for collagen formation; therefore, skin becomes less elastic forming more wrinkles over time.
Additionally, the hormone melatonin is released during sleep and counteracts the effects of extra cortisol production. Less sleep time means less melatonin production and more damage to the skin’s infrastructure.
For many of us, it seems that there are just not enough hours in the day to get everything done, so we sacrifice sleep. The right amount of sleep varies by individual. There are a few, rare people who can live healthfully on very little sleep; on the other end, there are some who need a lot more to function.
On average, humans need six to eight hours of sleep per night.
Below are some tips to help ensure that when you do retire for the night, you get a high-quality sleep:
Make it a priority to take time for rest so you can provide your skin with adequate hours for regeneration and proper hormone signaling. Sleep is yet another pillar in the foundation of healthy skin, along with nutrition, topical products and stress management.
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