Sleep Well//

Too Little Sleep Can Mess With Your Well-Being — and Your Appearance

Science shows that “beauty sleep” is not a myth.

Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock
Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

We’ve all heard countless warnings about one of the perils of staying up too late: missing out on “beauty sleep.” But it’s not a myth. Science shows that adequate sleep is essential for our skin to repair and regenerate, and getting seven to nine hours of quality shut-eye per night might just be the best Instagram “filter” around. As Eti Ben Simon, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science, tells Thrive, “studies show that when individuals have been deprived of sleep for a night, they are perceived as looking less attractive and more tired, compared to when they’ve had good sleep. I think of it as gravity winning the battle when you have not slept well —  everything starts drawing down!” 

The reason sleep-deprived people — even young, healthy individuals — look less attractive to others could be evolutionary, notes Ben Simon. “People who haven’t slept well are perceived as having similar physiological changes in their appearance as when they are sick. From an evolutionary standpoint, there would be a real desire to stay away from people who seemed like they might be ill.” An upcoming Berkeley study Ben Simon is working on demonstrates further scientific evidence of the sleep-beauty connection. “It shows that sleep-deprived individuals feel less attractive themselves,” she says. Interestingly, lack of quality shut-eye also affects our desire to interact with others, while good sleep results in more motivation to initiate connections. Just as important, “when we allow ourselves to sleep well, we’re opening the gates for people to engage with us,” adds Ben Simon. 

Your body repairs itself during the night — and that includes your skin. “As we sleep, blood flow to the skin increases, aiding in the rebuilding of collagen,” Sonia Batra, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Santa Monica, California and co-host of “The Doctors” T.V. show, tells Thrive. Good sleep also leads to speedier cell growth and repair. “At night, melatonin acts as an antioxidant that helps to reverse the signs of aging caused by U.V. damage and protects the skin from further damage.” If you get good, consistent quality sleep, there will be improvements in blood circulation, which will reduce face swelling and under-eye bags. You may also notice clearer and tighter skin: As Dr. Batra explains, our body may perceive lack of sleep as stress, which leads to a spike in the stress hormone cortisol. That, in turn, can result in breakouts and slow down cell turnover. “It can cause skin inflammation, which can exacerbate acne, eczema, psoriasis and some skin allergies.

Now that you know the consequences of a lack of shut-eye, how can you prioritize zzz’s and get your beauty sleep? These tips can help:

Give yourself a wind-down hour

An hour before bedtime, start to send your body signals that it’s time to calm down instead of ramp up. For example, dim your lighting and put away your laptop. “Respect the time when your body’s ready to fall asleep and don’t push it further with another TV show or another email,” says Ben Simon. Meditation can be helpful too.  

Skip the nightcap

Drinking alcohol reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. So while a nightcap may seem like a good way to wind down, the truth is that it robs you of the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep.

Wash your face 

It sounds obvious, but Dr. Batra says that for healthy skin, it is crucial to wash your face thoroughly before you go to bed. “If you leave dirt and grime on your face that’s accumulated throughout the day, it can do serious damage as you sleep, including enlarged pores, dry skin, rashes, infections, inflammation and acne.” Almost as important as washing your face, she adds, is applying a moisturizer or cream to prevent your skin from drying out overnight. “That helps to maintain your skin’s natural protective barrier.” 

Choose a good sleeping position

“I try to sleep on my back with my head slightly elevated, to increase blood flow, reduce puffiness and prevent skin irritation,” says Dr. Batra. “If you are experiencing particularly bad under-eye bags and dark circles, try stacking two pillows to improve blood flow and prevent fluid from pooling around your eyes at night.”

Go for a silk pillowcase

If you are someone who often sleeps on your side or stomach, Dr. Batra highly recommends switching to silk pillowcases. “Cotton can be rough on skin and cause irritation as well as compress your face while you sleep, which can cause wrinkles. Silk is more soothing for the skin.”

Try a jade roller

OK, this tip isn’t for bedtime. On those nights when you haven’t slept enough, despite your best intentions, Dr. Batra has a trick for dealing with puffy eyes: Use a cold pack, or a jade roller. “It’s a handheld beauty tool that can be rolled over the skin for a facial massage to gently disperse fluid accumulation,” says Dr. Batra. “I am a big fan; even using it for just two minutes in the morning will allow lymphatic fluid that’s accumulated to dissipate, and that’s going to calm things down.”  

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