In our endless search for the cream or serum that will fight wrinkles and eliminate blemishes, we may be missing the real cure for complexion woes: sleep. The idea of “beauty sleep” isn’t new, but it is becoming harder to achieve as modern sleep disruptors from stress to smartphones continue to follow us under the covers. The effects are real: A 2010 study published in the British Medical Journal found that people who had a full night of sleep (8 hours or more) versus sleep-deprived individuals (31 hours of wakefulness after a night of reduced sleep) were rated by observers as healthier and less tired (obviously), but also as more attractive. And while visible signs of sleeplessness like dark circles and dull skin are obvious, there’s even more damage below the surface, say skin care experts.
So how does sleep affect the way we look? “Growth hormones are released both at the beginning and in the late stages of sleep, which are responsible for these beautifying effects,” says Dr. Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, a specialist in dermatology and laser surgery in New York City. “Specifically, this growth hormone aids in the stimulation of skin cell production, collagen synthesis and a decrease in protein breakdown. In other words, it is the surge of growth hormones that stimulates skin repair during the night.” These hormones are only released during deep sleep, when the body and brain are able to fully recover from the day’s activities.
When we skimp on sleep, our bodies don’t release this growth hormone, and in turn, release more of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been found to break down collagen in excess amounts. “An abundance of stress hormones can increase inflammation and break down collagen leading to lines, wrinkles and an increase in acne formation,” says Minneapolis-based dermatologist Dr. Brian Zelickson.
Sensitive skin can also be a symptom of lack of sleep. “[Sleep deprivation] affects the skin’s natural barrier function which can lead to dryness, irritation and increased skin sensitivity,” Dr. Zelickson explains. The epidermis is less able to protect itself from chemicals and pollutants in the environment.
Trouble getting in your zzz’s? Dr. Zelickson offers tips on getting a better night’s sleep:
— Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
— Keep a regular sleep schedule — even on the weekends.
— Avoid caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
— Limit alcohol and heavy meals before sleep — although it seems that a glass of wine will help you fall asleep, you won’t enter deep sleep with alcohol in your system.
— Get regular exercise and keep a healthy diet.
— Use a sleep tracking device, like the Sleep Cycle app, that tracks your sleep quality with charts that show when you enter deep sleep.
Does sleep guarantee perfect skin? Not exactly. However, since the skin is highly reactant to products applied right before bed, your nightly skincare regimen can be the extra boost to a flawless complexion. Here are a few of our favorite night treatments:
Dr. Jart Water Fuse Water-Max Sleeping Mask ($48, sephora.com)
This mask is applied to the face ten minutes before bed. As you sleep, the product moisturizes the skin while the gel texture forms a protective layer.
Murad Overnight Soothing Gel ($30, murad.com)
With a blend of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, this lightweight gel seeps into skin to reduce redness and sensitivity.
Aveeno Skin Relief Overnight Cream ($7, target.com)
This nourishing body cream relieves dry, itchy skin for a more peaceful night’s sleep. Plus, you wake up with glowy, hydrated skin.
NP Set Say Goodnight Night Cream ($29, target.com)
This paraben-free night cream not only boosts moisture while you sleep, but rejuvenates and protects the skin with its mixture of Vitamin E and B5.
Read more: Do At-Home Beauty Devices Really Work?