Image Credit: Camera Press

It’s the news that no insomniac or light sleeper wants to hear. Recent research has proved that lack of sleep can accelerate the signs of skin ageing, which means 
that aside from feeling tired and grumpy after a restless night, it’s not just your body that feels the strain – it’s your face too.

According to The Sleep Center at University Hospitals Case Medical Centre in Ohio, US, poor sleepers have a higher skin age, more lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, dullness and skin slackening, as well as a compromised skin barrier that loses water more quickly, than those who get enough shut-eye on a regular basis. Worse still, aside from the accelerated skin ageing of up to 50 per cent, the poor sleepers studied were slower to recover from environmental skin damage like sunburn, were more prone to putting on weight and were more likely to rate themselves as unattractive.

“While chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to medical problems such as obesity, diabetes, cancer and immune deficiency, its effects on skin function have previously been unknown,” says the director of The Sleep Centre’s research study, Dr Elma Baron. “This study conclusively demonstrates that inadequate sleep is directly correlated with reduced skin health and accelerates skin ageing. Sleep-deprived women show signs of premature skin ageing and a decrease in their skin’s ability to recover after sun exposure.”

While it is universally accepted that the skin rejuvenation process is at its peak when the body is resting, these new findings have proved what our mothers and grandmothers have been telling us for years – that 
a girl can never get enough beauty sleep.

“Damage accumulated inside the cells during the day is cleared away while you sleep, to leave healthy, purified skin cells on waking,” explains Dr Nadine Pernodet, executive director of skin biology at Estée Lauder. So it makes sense that the less sleep you get, the more you miss of this essential skin regeneration. Unfortunately, as you age, the body becomes less efficient at this process, which in turn falls out of synch with sleep patterns.


It’s not just the amount of sleep 
you get that matters – the kind 
of sleep is vital too.

When you don’t get enough sleep, or suffer with regularly interrupted sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol.

In excess amounts, cortisol can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth, elastic and youthful-looking – which in turn leads to premature ageing.

Sleep loss also causes the body to release too little human growth hormone. When we’re young, the human growth hormone promotes growth. As we age, it helps to increase muscle mass, thicken skin, and strengthen bones. “It’s during deep sleep – what we call slow-wave sleep – that growth hormone is released,” says sleep expert Phil Gehrman, PhD. “It seems to be part of normal tissue repair – patching the wear and tear of the day.” And if you don’t sleep, this function is impaired, which has a knock-on effect to the way our skin looks.

Geoff Wright, director of London’s Hair and Beauty Partnership, and an expert in chronobiology (the study 
of the body clock), is a big believer in the benefits of a 
good night’s sleep.

“There are set times when our body clock dictates that various processes take place in hair and skin. From 8pm to 11pm is the time for hydration and stimulation, while 11pm to 3am is the time for nutrition and regeneration, and 3am to 5am is the time for resting.”

Few adults are in bed at 8pm and, as the hormone that triggers sleep – melatonin – peaks at around 11pm, this is the time we should naturally get tired. Seven or eight hours of sleep is ideal for most of us. More than that can mean we wake up looking puffy and feeling sluggish.

“Chronic lack of sleep, or poor-quality sleep, has an incredibly negative effect on the way we feel – and on the way we look,” says Geoff. “If you sleep badly, you are likely to become stressed, and this can cause the capillaries to tighten up, affecting the flow of nutrients to the skin and scalp and causing the skin and hair to look dull.”


However well you sleep, you may still wake up with puffy eyes and dark circles if you are sleeping in an awkward position. These problems are caused by constriction of the blood flow to the skin. “If you sleep face-down the blood vessels will become constricted and the circulatory system releases congested fluid from tiny flaps in the walls of these vessels,” says cosmetologist Colette Haydon.

“The dark circles are actually tiny blood vessels ‘pooling’ under the thin, delicate skin below the eyes. The older you get, the longer they take to disappear; and you may notice more lines forming permanently on the side of the face you normally sleep on. This is because as we age, our skin loses elasticity and collagen, and doesn’t ‘bounce back’ into shape.” The answer? Try to train yourself to sleep on your back. “You can also help to prevent fluid accumulation causing puffy eyes by keeping your head raised well above your body in bed,” says Colette. “This may be difficult at first – but it’s worth it.”


Your evening skincare regime should be double the intensity of your morning one. “Studies have shown that the physiological changes in the skin overnight, such as increased vascular flow, can translate into better absorption of topical ingredients applied at night,” explains NYC dermatologist Dr Adam Geyer. This boost in blood flow allows the active ingredients in products 
to work harder and faster.

Colette agrees. ‘‘Applying night cream just before bed means your skin will get the most benefit when the absorption of nutrients is at its peak. Your cream should be nourishing, but not thick and rich. You can gauge if it is the right consistency by feeling your skin 15 minutes after application – you should still be able to feel the ‘slip’ of the cream, but not otherwise be aware of it.”


 Is your diet sabotaging your sleep patterns? Try these handy tips to navigate your way to the land of nod

• Sleep is the time our bodies become most dehydrated, but rather than drinking too much water before you hit the sack, only to wake in the middle of the night needing to go to the bathroom, eat water-rich foods before bed, such as watermelon or grapes, which are less likely to fill your bladder. Water taken this way, at any time of the day, also has greater benefits. “When we drink water, it flushes right through our cells, sometimes taking vital nutrients with it,” explains Dr Howard Murad, dermatologist and associate clinical professor of medicine at UCLA. “Structured water, like that in raw fruit and vegetables, is the best because it stays in your system for longer. The more hydrated our cells, the healthier and better our skin looks.”

• Toxins are harmful chemicals we take in from what we eat, and the environment we live in. Throughout the night, our liver and kidneys purify our bodies by steadily breaking down the waste chemicals from the gut, digestive system and blood. Milk thistle an hour before bed helps to repair any cell damage, washed down with organic nettle tea, which is an anti-inflammatory and 
a diuretic.

• Indigestion commonly hits between 11pm and 3am, when our digestive system is processing our evening meal. But poor digestion manifests itself in breakouts between the eyebrows, over the chin and red, flaky lips, according to holistic therapist Marie Reynolds. Eat well before 8pm, and take supplements containing artichoke and dandelion root to speed up your body’s cleansing process and help to remove water from your digestive system, so it works more efficiently.