While the beauty industry would like us to believe that the secret to a youthful appearance and glowing skin can be found in a product or procedure, the reality is that how we look can be attributed to multiple factors, from our genetics to our lifestyle choices and even the quality of our sleep.
Drawing on years of research, experts are able to draw a clear line between poor sleep quality and the aging of our skin. The effects of poor sleep even impact the perception of our own physical appearance, as well as our perception of others.
What is going on during sleep that’s helping to slow down the aging process and keep us looking as young as we feel on the inside? We’ll break it all down in this post, and share expert-backed ways you can get the biggest beauty benefits from your sleep.
Despite decades of extensive research, the exact function of sleep still remains a mystery. What experts do know, is that during certain stages of sleep, biological processes occur that help restore and repair the cells, muscles, tissues, and other systems in our body that are depleted during the day. This is called the Restorative theory.
To understand what part of the night our body is working to reduce the effects of aging, we need to look at your whole night of sleep. When you sleep, your brain cycles through different stages. The stages are divided into two phases:
This entire process is innate, which means it’s all happening without you having any conscious control over it. Healthy adults start in NREM sleep and move through the four stages before transitioning into REM sleep and beginning the cycle again. A cycle lasts anywhere from about 90 minutes to 120 minutes.
The first phase, NREM sleep, is made up of 4 stages (some experts will combine stages 3 and 4). As you progress through Stages 1 - 4, your brain waves slow down and become more synchronized.
Stages 3 and 4 are where your deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep happens. These crucial stages are where the body begins to physically repair itself and consolidate memories and learnings from your day.
Your body then transitions to REM sleep, where your brain becomes more active, your eyes move rapidly beneath closed eyelids, and breathing increases and becomes irregular. This is also the stage where scientists believe the majority of your dreams occur.</p>
Your body cycles through NREM and REM sleep stages several times during the night. While everyone’s sleep architecture – the formal term for the pattern of sleep your body cycles through – differs depending on numerous health factors, most people tend to cycle through the stages of sleep about four to five times each night.
The biggest takeaway here? We can pinpoint that stages 3 and 4 in NREM sleep are important for our physical healing and growth on a full-body level, from muscles and tissue repair, even for our skin and outward appearance.
A peek into what happens to our body while we sleep highlights the importance of adequate rest for our health, both internally and externally. Sleep lowers the likelihood of health risks like diabetes and heart disease, boosts our immune system, and allows us to make healthy decisions by thinking clearly and stabilizing our mood.
Sleep has its external health and beauty benefits too. Many of these can be detected by just a glance at our skin! To better understand the connection between rest, skin health, and a youthful appearance, we’ll break down the biological processes happening behind the scenes.
When we sleep, our body gets some “time off” from the work it must do while we are active and awake. This includes boosting levels of proteins, like collagen and melatonin, which promote cell growth and repair. They also work to fight damage to our skin from UV rays and other environmental factors, all of which help fight signs of aging and keep our skin looking healthy and refreshed.
It’s during the slow-wave, deep sleep stage of the night that we see an uptick in the production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH is produced by the pituitary gland at the base of our spine and is responsible for much of the muscle and tissue growth we experience in childhood.
As we age, HGH continues playing a significant role in your body, from accelerating cell growth and repair to recovery from illness and injury, and even impacts your metabolism. While research is limited, researchers believe that HGH boosts the appearance of the skin and slows down the aging process.
Levels of HGH do decrease as we age. It should be noted that supplementing with synthetic HGH to boost athletic performance or reverse signs of aging has not been proven to be clinically effective and should be discussed with a healthcare provider before using it.
At some point we have to ask, what doesn’t stress affect? When it comes to looking and feeling younger, keeping stress levels low is crucial.
Stress makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. When we are sleep-deprived, our body’s stress response is triggered and releases hormones like cortisol, which increase our level of alertness and make it even harder to fall asleep.
Cortisol and other inflammatory proteins that show up in the body in times of stress can contribute to the formation of acne. Our skin and overall immune system take another hit when stress disrupts our sleep by limiting the amount of a protein called cytokines released by our immune system. Cytokines help fight off infections, including ones on your skin, like acne. The key takeaway is that reducing stress can help your chances of getting the amount of sleep you need for rest and repair, inside and out.
Proper hydration and healthy blood flow are two key factors to defying the signs of aging and looking (and feeling) youthful. The more hydrated we are, the more elastic our skin is. This elasticity is what keeps the skin on our face, as well as the rest of our body, from becoming prematurely wrinkled, sagging, or excessively dry. Likewise, your blood circulates throughout your body, delivering oxygen and other key nutrients and vitamins to your skin. When this process is impeded or slowed down, it’s easy for our skin to look dull and fatigued.
Good sleep has a direct impact on both hydration and blood circulation. When you’re not properly hydrated at night, researchers believe that your body’s circadian rhythm begins to retain fluids in order to prevent you from dehydrating overnight. This fluid retention can produce a puffy face and circles under the eyes in the morning. Your skin’s barrier also weakens with dehydration, which means spending enough time in the restorative stages of sleep is even more important.
Likewise, the better hydrated you are, the easier it is for your blood to flow throughout your blood vessels. This allows blood to deliver what it needs to the skin but also helps flush out any toxins your body has absorbed during the day and night.
You may be familiar with the phrase “you look tired.” Whether you’ve been the recipient or the messenger, we can often see the signs of sleep deprivation just by glancing at someone’s face.
Here are a few of the noted side effects of poor sleep on your outward appearance:
In one study from the University of Paris, researchers restricted the sleep of 24 healthy female participants, aged 30-50, to three hours over a two-night period. Measurements taken before and after the restricted sleep found that skin lost brightness and saturation and dark circles became more pronounced.
A Swedish study that assessed participants after 8 hours of sleep and again after 31 hours of sleep deprivation shared similar findings. The participants were recorded as having eyelids that droop more, red and swollen eyes with darker circles underneath. Participants were perceived as looking sadder when they were sleep-deprived, with more wrinkles, fine lines, and paler skin, according to the study’s authors.
Health and wellness experts say that focusing on a healthy diet, getting adequate rest, and exercising on a regular basis are critical components to feeling and looking younger, even as the years continue to pass by.
When it comes to smaller everyday habits and actions that you can easily tweak, here are a few more recommendations:
For more ways to improve your sleep – and your youthful appearance – check out our post 10 Tips to Improve Your Sleep
Sleep plays a role in how you feel physically, mentally, and even emotionally. Its impact on our “beauty sleep” is no exception. If you need help sleeping better, Sleep Reset will provide you with all the support and tools you need to fall asleep faster, sleep throughout the night, and wake up feeling well-rested.
The Sleep Reset program is developed in partnership with top clinical sleep medicine specialists and includes proven methods to help you reduce your sleep anxiety and fall asleep in minutes. It’s also an all-natural solution, proving you can sleep successfully without pills and supplements, or the grogginess and side effects that come with them.
Ready to get your personalized sleep plan and your own dedicated sleep coach? Take our sleep quiz today to see how Sleep Reset can help you!
Disclaimer: The information provided on this page should not be taken as medical advice and should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Always consult your physician before taking any new medication(s) or altering your current dosage.