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How does sleep help skin?

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This post is part of a series about skin stressors and skin health. Read the rest of the posts in this series:

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” - Irish proverb

Okay, maybe not everything, but it's true that sleep helps skin.

Sleep keeps low-level stress from wreaking havoc on our immune systems. It’s so important that we consider dark circles and dull skin immediate signs of too many late nights. Research confirms that our skin needs good sleep to thrive.

In this post, we’ll explain how sleep affects our skin, and give you a solid excuse to say “I have to go home and get some beauty sleep.”

How little sleep is too little sleep?

Let’s get this out of the way early: adults need 7 hours of sleep per night. Less than 5 hours is considered “short sleep,” and is correlated with all sorts of scary health outcomes. Not getting enough sleep increases our risk of chronic disease, makes us more prone to injury, and means we’re less able to perform at work.

According to the CDC, a third of US adults report they usually get less than the recommended 7 hours. The same report states that “getting enough sleep is not a luxury—it is something people need for good health.”


The thing is, we struggle with sleep for reasons beyond spending too little time in bed. Our behaviors throughout the day are harming our sleep quality, too. All our screens, from the television to our handheld devices, emit light on the UV wavelength we refer to as “blue light.”

Blue light decreases our production of melatonin, a hormone that stimulates sleepiness. When we view screens after sunset, our eyes give our brains the message to stay awake. This makes it harder to fall asleep, and harder to stay asleep when we get there.

What’s more, research indicates psychosocial stress, the force behind that “constantly stressed-out” feeling, leads to poor sleep. Psychosocial stress is all about how stressed we feel, making it an insidious source of skin problems and a tough nut to crack (see our post “How does stress affect our skin?” for more).
man yawning into his hand with closed eyes

Is sleep good for skin?

Like all environmental stressors, lack of sleep causes the visible signs of skin aging by depleting our skin’s resources (see What are environmental stressors, anyway?). While in the past we might have flippantly blamed those dark circles on a rough night of sleep, we now know for sure that the two are linked.

A 2015 study found that better sleep quality was associated with fewer signs of aging. In this study, good sleepers were better able to deal with skin stress from UV light, and they even thought they looked more attractive compared to poor sleepers (in general, we tend to think healthier skin is more beautiful skin).

In contrast, those who didn’t sleep well not only thought they looked worse but experienced impaired barrier function. Our skin serves as a barrier against environmental stressors like smog and sunlight and keeps out foreign invaders like bacteria, too. Stress keeps skin from doing that job well, and it turns out poor sleep does, too.

Another study, done in fruit flies (yep, they need their rest too!), showed that sleep improved the damage caused by environmental stressors. 

In short, sleep helps skin do its job well.

full moon on a blue sky

How can I get more sleep? 

Truth is, it’s all too easy to let small things like finishing a Netflix binge or late-night emails take precedence over bedtime. Now that you understand how important sleep is for skin health, you might be able to push it up your To-Do list. These are some of our favorite strategies for improving your snooze.

Put down the screens 

The best solution is to avoid screens completely after dark. Charge your phone in a different room and rely on an alarm clock to wake up. If that’s not an option, you might consider a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses, or install apps like f.lux on your computer. Most handheld devices offer settings that lower blue light in the evenings, too.

Track your sleep 

Most fitness trackers, like Fitbit, are now equipped with nifty sleep tracking capabilities. These programs can help you understand whether you’re waking up around the same time each night or simply going to bed too late, and set milestones and reminders to help you get enough good-quality sleep.

Set a bedtime

Yes, even though you’re an adult. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help train your body to become sleepier at night and wake more easily in the morning. Setting a weeknight bedtime and trying your best to adhere to it on weekends is a simple first step.

Spend time outside 

Just as staring at daytime light via our screens is bad news in the evenings, missing the sunlight during the day can also confuse our circadian rhythms. Spending a few minutes outside during the day helps regulate these patterns, especially if you’re normally cooped up in a windowless office.

alarm clock on a pink and blue backgroundLower the temperature in your bedroom 

Our ideal sleep temperature is 67 degrees. If you can’t make that happen, you might try investing in lighter bedding or (gasp) sleeping in the nude.

If you’re sleeping enough and still not seeing skin results, your skin might be crying out for antioxidants. Sundaily gummies are packed with antioxidants to help improve your skin’s ability to combat free radical damage from environmental stressors like sleep from within. Start your subscription today!


Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

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