Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule can be downright, well, exhausting. According to recent statistics, 30 percent of the nation’s adults get inadequate sleep on a regular basis. Proper sleep is vital for a healthy body and mind, and for weight stability, mental health, and improved immunity. Sufficient slumber also improves the skin’s overall appearance and helps give the skin a healthy, vibrant glow. And the effects of beauty sleep aren’t just skin-deep: Healthy skin acts as an external barometer of the body’s overall health.
One of the main functions of sleep is to allow the brain to rest. Much like a computer on standby mode, the brain cools down as we sleep. During the nighttime hours, the body’s focus shifts from basic functions, such as movement and digestion, to repair. Sleep is restorative on a global level for all organs, including the skin—and quality, uninterrupted sleep allows these reparative processes to work most efficiently.
During this period, several key internal processes aid in skin renewal and repair. The shunting of blood away from muscle tissue encourages increased blood flow to the skin, which helps to transport vital nutrients to its surface while aiding in the regeneration of skin cells. And with proper sleep, blood vessels constrict, helping to give the skin more even tone; on the contrary, after sleep deprivation, blood vessels dilate, causing redness, flushing and those persistent dark circles.
Sleep is also a primary modulator of human growth hormone, which spikes within four hours of falling asleep. Growth hormone promotes collagen synthesis and contributes to the firmness and healthy appearance of the skin. In addition, getting ample sleep helps balance estrogen levels to support better moisture retention.
While a good night’s sleep plays a primary role in skin repair and the renewal of collagen, sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on the body’s global hormone levels. Aptly called the “stress hormone,” cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress and is shown to increase after sleep loss. In addition to having a negative impact on the immune system—and a direct link to weight gain—high cortisol levels ramp up hypersensitivity to various toxins and allergies, and may make the skin more susceptible to rashes, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea flare-ups, and autoimmune diseases.
Elevated cortisol also stimulates oil production, which can lead to an increase in acne breakouts. And while aging doesn’t occur overnight, a long-term increase in cortisol can accelerate the aging process, which over time can age the skin far beyond its chronological years.
In recent years, studies have illustrated the need for not only sufficient sleep, but quality sleep. A newly published clinical trial conducted at Cleveland’s University Hospitals Case Medical Center studied the connection between sleep and skin function. Researchers found that poor-quality sleepers were more susceptible to signs of intrinsic skin aging, including fine lines, uneven pigmentation and decreased elasticity, while good-quality sleepers were better able to recover from skin stressors, such as sunburn.
Simply put, merely being in bed each night does not a good night’s sleep make. To sleep more soundly, start by reversing bad habits. Try to avoid the use of electronic devices immediately before bed, as they stimulate the visual cortex of the brain, preventing relaxation. A hot bath or shower before bedtime can help to relax the body while stimulating the production of growth hormone. It’s also important to choose a sleeping space wisely: A dark room encourages the release of melatonin, a powerful antioxidant that not only fights aging in the body, but also helps to promote restful sleep.
An evening skin care routine need not be complicated; in fact, the most effective way to get good skin is to let the skin’s inherent repair processes do what they do best. Simple steps, like drinking water before bed and using a topical moisturizer, will help to keep the skin hydrated. The use of proven ingredients like retinol and growth factors, such as those found in SkinMedica® TNS Essential Serum®, will help rejuvenate skin.
Ultimately, achieving healthy, beautiful skin comes down to consistency in lifestyle, skin care routine and yes, sleep habits. Aim for at least six to eight hours of sleep nightly to ensure that the body’s hormonal processes are at their most effective. When hormones are stable over the long-term, the skin will reflect this balance and will appear more youthful and vibrant over time.