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How sleep affects our skin

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In this article

During sleep is the body's time to regenerate
What happens when we don't get enough sleep?
Tips to improve sleep
Apps to help you sleep 
Research studies

As well as needing our sleep to remain healthy and alert we also need it to keep our skin in good condition.

Without getting our well known beauty sleep our skin starts to show the effect through fine lines, puffy eyes, dullness and dark circles under the eyes.

During sleep is the body's time to regenerate

There are four stages to sleep, stages one and two are being between awake and asleep and stages three and four is where Rapid Eye Movement happens. This is when we are in ‘deep sleep’ and actual regeneration occurs.

The nervous system has two states:

The sympathetic system which is more in control while we are awake and keeps the blood flow near the core of the body.

The parasympathetic nervous system which takes priority while we sleep. Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD says that during this state blood flow shifts from the core of our body to the skin. As our skin is having to work hard to fend itself against external influences like the sun during the day, it’s while we sleep that it takes the time to regenerate.

A typical person needs Need 7-9 hours sleep per night. This will depend on multiple factors including their biological makeup as well as lifestyle (ie. how much exercise they take).

What happens when we don't get enough sleep?

Accelerated ageing of the skin

Deep sleep allows damaged cells to repair. Without those deeper phases of sleep, daily small breakdowns accumulate, instead of being reversed overnight. This leads to much more noticeable signs of ageing.

Collagen production decreases

Part of the regenerative and repair process is that our body produces collagen (Patricia Wexler, MD, dermatologist in NY). Collagen is what holds our skin together and keeps it firm. To regenerate the skin cells receptors activate within the blood vessels and take amino acid molecules to build more collagen. It is during deep sleep that the body releases growth hormones which aids cell production and collagen synthesis. Sleeping for 5 hours can lead to twice as many fine lines as sleeping 7 hours

Loss of the skins glow

As the body sends more blood to our skin during sleep it receives an increased amount of oxygen and nutrition. This gives the skin what it needs to have that healthy glow which we all love.

Reduced amount of toxins and dead cells are removed from the skin

During sleep our bodies work to remove dead blood and brain cells from the body. This makes space for new cells to replace the old ones (Rebecca S. Robbins, M.D., Ph.D., researcher of Cornell University, and author of Sleep for Success).

Equally as important, this time for regeneration allows the body to drain any unwanted fluids or toxins. When the body isn’t able to drain of all the unrequired fluid it leads to puffy skin. When you get the required amount of sleep your body removes up to 50% more toxins.

Disrupts the skin barrier function

A study found that sleep deprivation disrupted skin barrier function. This is how the stratum corneum prevents water loss and blocks entry to foreign substances. It is believed that this could trigger inflammatory disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, and atopic dermatitis.

Reduces the body's immune system

The health of our skin relies on the health of our body. If our immune system isn’t working at it’s best our bodies are in danger of become ill.

To support the immune system the body tries to work it’s way into a slightly inflammatory state. Research has shown that when we don’t get enough sleep the body’s inflammatory state does nothing to support the immune system which puts the body in danger of infection and chronic disease.

A big danger for the skin is that this unhelpful state of inflammation can lead to acne and psoriasis.

Worsening existing skin conditions

Lack of sleep can lead to increased inflammatory response, so conditions such as acne, skin sensitivity, allergic dermatitis, eczema and etc. are more likely to become worse.

The body gains weight

Lack of sleep can cause the body to create too many or few of certain hormones including Leptin, Grehlin, Glucose and Insulin. This imbalance can cause the body to gain weight which in turn can negatively affect the skin. How being overweight affects the skin can be seen here.

Body increases the amount of cortisol released Cortisol is a catabolic hormone which breaks down tissue which can damage the skin.

Tips to improve sleep

Having difficulty getting to sleep or wake up often throughout the night? Here are things you can do to increase the chances of getting a good nights sleep.

  • Don't eat a big meal too late in the evening, allow at least 2-3 hours between dinner and going to bed
  • Avoid using electronics in the bedroom such as your laptop or your phone, try to read a book instead
  • Have a chamomile tea before bed - it helps to unwind and relax after a long day
  • Avoid using detergents with strong fragrances
  • Drink plenty of water during the day, but not before going to bed
  • Don’t use electronic devices 90 minutes before going to sleep. Electronic device screens give of blue daylight specrum light which is the colour of the sun which is stimulating and energizing to our systems.
  • Lie on your back as lying on your stomach can cause liquid to pool under your eye throughout the night causing puffiness.
  • Reduce alcohol intake as it stops the body from being able to go into REM sleep

Apps to help you sleep  

If you have difficulty getting a good nights sleep check out our favourite sleep benefiting apps.

Sleep cycle

Sleep Cycle describes itself as an “intelligent alarm clock”. It works by having you place your phone next to your pillow so that it can analyse sleep quality through your movement. It then wakes you up during your lighter sleep phase, which is said to leave you feeling naturally rested and less groggy.

After a period of use it can provide you with comprehensive information on your sleep patterns including sleep quality and average time asleep. The results might surprise you! You can also monitor how your lifestyle choices can affect your sleep quality including exercising and drinking coffee or alcohol.

If you’re looking to improve your sleep or to explore the root causes for why you don’t sleep well using Sleep Cycle can be a great place to start.

Price: £0.79

iTunes Rating: 4.5


Regular meditation can enhance your sleep quality by teaching you to relax and clear your mind.

Calm is a meditation app, which contains some great guided programs to help you naturally drift off. Their mission is to help people increase their sense of calm in an increasingly busy and stressed out world.

The app begins with the 7 Days of Calm, a free introductory program that allows the user to learn the basics of mindfulness. If you then decide to commit to a subscription you have access to a number of guided meditations including those for sleep.

Calm also comes with trackers, a reminder and a timer for freestyle meditation, making it easy to develop your mindfulness practice and incorporate it into your everyday life. With a variety of natural background scenes and sounds to choose from the app’s very appearance results in feelings of serenity.

Price: Free for the 7 Days of Calm course, in app subscriptions vary. iTunes Rating: 4.5


Falling asleep to natural sounds, including rain and waves, can help to decrease feelings of stress and anxiety. Rain, Rain helps you fall asleep with a library of high-quality sounds. It’s a simple app with limited additions, you pick your sound, you select your preferred time and you fall asleep.

If you’re a music lover or have DJ aspirations you’ll enjoy the mixer function, which allows you to combine any of the sounds you like and create your perfect track. Want to be reminded of hot summer day in the rain, it’s completely possible with the mixer!

Price: Free to download with 25 free tracks, in app additions vary. iTunes Rating: 5

Research studies

Being a morning person may be defined by our genes

Do you jump out of bed first thing in the morning or are you more likely to come into bloom late in the night? Your answer, it turns out, will actually have a lot to do with your genetics. And this can have a big impact on your day-to-day productivity.

Researchers from The University of Leicester have completed a study which is adding weight to the increasingly popular attitude that the daily '9 to 5' may not be the most productive or efficient structure of working for all of us.

The study, published in Frontiers in Neurology, explains that the researchers have discovered nearly 80 genes associated with ‘morningness’ or ‘lateness’. The results are based on their analysis of fruit flies, who surprisingly have a very similar ‘genetic clock’ to us.

The research was focused on the timing of the fruit flies emerging from their pupal case, an event that is regulated by their natural internal clock (circadian clock). While most flies emerged during dawn (‘larks’), there were some rogue flies emerging later on (‘owls’). When they compared the genes of both sets of flies, it became apparent that there were nearly 80 genes that were expressing differently to trigger this behaviour.

What does this mean for us humans? Well for those of us that are the ‘owls’, it indicates that trying to work the 9 to 5 schedule is going against our natural internal clock. Where possible, ‘owls’ should ideally be working later in the day, or at least prioritising important tasks to when their bodies are most naturally awake.

While the luxury of choosing our working hours might currently be limited to the few, as research in this field changes attitudes and advances in technology supports more work flexibility; it's likely there will be an increase in 'owls' working to a schedule that is more natural and productive for 'owls', and the businesses they work in.

Bensons for beds

The Bensons for Beds study found that reducing sleep to 6 hours a night for 5 nights increased wrinkles, pores, brown spots and red areas. Read study here 

British medical journal

In the British Medical Journal study people were asked to rate photographs which contained pictures of people who were either sleep deprived or not. People who weren’t sleep deprived were considered to be healthier, more attractive. Read study here

Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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