Photo of a woman sleeping in a field of flowers
Beauty sleep is not a myth - good quality sleep really can help your skin glow

Beautiful skin begins with a good night’s sleep

1 February, 2013

Go ahead and joke about getting your ‘beauty sleep’, but guess what? It turns out that sleep quality and healthy, youthful skin are deeply linked.

Most of us have experienced that awful moment when we look in the mirror after a late night and see puffy eyes and dry, lacklustre skin staring back at us. It’s easy enough to bounce back from these occasional indulgences, but chronic lack of sleep can play a major role in ageing your skin prematurely – in extreme cases leaving you looking a decade older.

When you don’t get enough sleep, lots of chemical changes take place that affect your skin health.

Numerous studies have shown that chronic sleep debt can dramatically impair skin function and integrity and may in particular affect collagen production. Collagen is the ‘scaffolding of the skin (and other body tissues), helping to maintain its firmness. It also protects against UV damage and bacterial infection, seals in moisture, improves elasticity and preserves its youthful, healthy appearance.

Sleep loss also causes the body to release too little human growth hormone. When we’re young, we need human growth hormone to help us grow. But as we age, it helps increase muscle mass, thicken skin and strengthen bones.

But it’s not just premature ageing that can result from sleep debt. Studies in animals have found that prolonged sleep deprivation causes them to develop ulcerous lesions on their legs and suffer increased risk of bacterial invasion through the skin owing to a breakdown in skin membrane integrity.

Sleep debt takes its toll

In humans, sleep debt and stress can trigger inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. It can also exacerbate both atopic dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis – so much so that over the past two decades a new medical speciality has emerged called psychodermatology.

The field of psychodermatology grew out of a number of published studies showing a link between mood and sleep problems in chronic skin diseases which may be why many skin conditions an sometimes respond well to antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

Scientists attribute the link between chronic insomnia and skin disorders to the immune-altering effects induced by the release of excess glucocorticoids triggered by sleep debt and stress.

This class of hormones regulates the metabolism of glucose. Every cell in the human body possesses receptors for glucocorticoids, which play a crucial role in immune function. Excess glucocorticoid production has been shown to negatively affect nearly every tissue in the body and accelerate the ageing process.

A night-time balancing act

Cortisol is arguable the most important of the glucocorticoids and there is evidence that your body releases more of this ‘stress hormone’ when it is sleep deprived. In excess amounts, cortisol can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic.

We now know that formation of collagen is highly dependent on a sequence of biochemical events that take place during restful nights of sleep.

This night-time balancing act is disrupted in the presence of excess glucocorticoids (cortisol in particular).

Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to damage immune function. Of particular significance for skin health are the lower levels of interleukin-1 (IL-1) commonly found in insomnia sufferers.

At normal levels, IL-1 triggers increased white blood cell production in response to foreign invaders and has a role to play in the production of collagen.

Get your beauty sleep

To keep your skin healthy and youthful-looking skin, most experts recommend you get at least 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep each night. In today’s hectic, stressed-out world, can be a tall order.

Women, in particular, are at risk from sleep disorders and in according to to successful women Arianna Huffington, publisher of The Huffington Post, and Cindi Leive, publisher of Glamoursleep deprivation is one of the most crucial issues today’s women face. The resulting exhaustion, they say is undermining women’s creativity, judgement, and relationships.  In addition it is damaging to health leading to greater risk of heart cardiovascular disease weight gain and depression.

It’s not just how many hours we sleep but the quality of the sleep we get that matters. In recent years, repeated studies have found that while women average 8 to 13 more minutes of sleep per night than men, the quality of women’s sleep is much poorer.

Why do women have more interrupted sleep than men? Health experts say biological and sociological factors are both to blame.

It’s different for girls

Research by the National Sleep Foundation in the US indicates physical processes unique to women often result in sleep deprivation.

During menstruation, around 15% of women report difficulty sleeping due to tender breasts , headaches  and cramps. During pregnancy, nearly 80% of women have sleep problems. During menopause, 40% report interrupted sleep, most frequently due to hot flashes.

According to Joyce Walsleben, associate professor at the New York University Sleep Disorders Center, author of A Woman’s Guide to Sleep, and a spokeswoman for the National Sleep Foundation “In many of these cases, the problem is tied to hormonal fluctuations.

Essential oils to help you sleep

You don’t need to turn to sleeping pills to get the sleep you need. There are lots of less drastic things you can do to get a better night’s sleep (see our article How to get a good night’s sleep).

One of the most pleasant ways to reduce stress and help you drop off is to make use of natural essential oils. Some of the best choices include:

Benzoin (Styrax benzoin) is sedative, warming, and relaxing. It can be useful for sleeplessness caused by worry, emotional exhaustion and tension.

Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) has a calming and grounding effect. It has a sweet and balsamic aroma and works well mixed with other relaxing oils, especially lavender, thyme, and rosemary.

Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) is a good choice for its calming and sedative qualities on your emotions and nerves. It’s also is also commonly used in aromatherapy for helping with depression. It also possesses great regenerative properties, which makes it popular use in skin products.

Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) is known for its refreshing and relaxing properties. It has a soothing effect on the nerves and is a good choice after a long, stressful day.

Lavender (Lavendula officinalis) is a popular choice to treat insomnia. It has a deeply relaxing, refreshing effect and has been proven scientifically to help promote sleep.

Orange oil (Citrus sinensis) is often used to help treat anxiety, insomnia and nervousness. it has a stress-reducing and uplifting effect.

Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) has been prized for hundreds of years for its sweet, musky aroma, and its ability to bring about a meditative and serene state of mind.

Valerian Root (Valeriana fauriei) has been used for sleep, relaxation, and calming effects for centuries. As an essential oil it has a woody, balsamic aroma that is often blended with lavender, cedarwood, pine, and patchouli.

Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) is relaxing, tones the nervous system and lowers blood pressure. It’s particularly useful for the treatment of insomnia, depression, stress, nervous tension and excitability.

If you’d like to know more about the benefits of essential oils see our article here and check out our Essential Oil Blends Chart to help understand the properties of different essential oils and which ones blend well together.