Sleep and Your Skin

By Shelley Burns

We have all encountered a sleepless night or two. Upon waking, we look in the mirror and are traumatized by what we see: puffy eyes, dark circles, droopy eyelids, and sallow skin. To add insult to injury, more wrinkles may be visible due to tossing and turning. When it’s just one night, it’s relatively easy to recover. But poor sleep for a prolonged time is a recipe for disaster.  

There are three hormones affected when we don’t get adequate amounts of sleep. These are cortisol, growth hormone, and melatonin, and they all have a direct effect on how our skin ages.

  • Cortisol is our stress response hormone. When we are not sleeping well, we’re like a battery that does not have the chance to recharge. Our body identifies this as a stressful situation and starts producing cortisol. Like a jolt of caffeine, this spike in cortisol keeps us moving, but at a cost. Elevated cortisol levels break down collagen, resulting in less skin elasticity.
  • Growth hormone is responsible for building muscle, bone, and tissue—including skin. It is one of our antiaging hormones that replenishes as we sleep, rehydrating the skin and allowing for cellular repair.
  • Melatonin is our sleep hormone, and it also plays a role in the immune system. It is a significant contributor to the functional and physical integrity of our skin.

 Without quality sleep, growth hormone and melatonin are not produced in sufficient quantities, while cortisol is overproduced. The result is overall poor skin condition, including dryness, dullness, fine lines, and wrinkles.

Even how you position your face on your pillow affects your skin. Some dermatologists say women who sleep on their side tend to develop wrinkles in their cheeks, while men will tend to develop wrinkles on their forehead. Sleeping on your back will avoid the risk of “sleep lines.”

While there are some over-the-counter supplements to remedy sleeplessness, it’s far better to eat well, exercise regularly, and develop healthy sleep habits to let the body regulate its hormones in a natural way.

So, get your beauty sleep—at least seven or eight uninterrupted hours every night—to achieve radiant and healthier-looking skin.

Shelley Burns, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, completed studies at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, and has certification in complementary and integrative medicine from Harvard University.