You might not think there is a correlation between how you sleep and the look and age of your skin; but sleep plays a significant role in our skin’s health.
With news that a large proportion of us are struggling to sleep well (The Sleep Council’s 2017 Great British Bedtime Report revealed that more than a third of Brits have suffered from sleeping problems for more than five years and a fifth for more than 10 years), all that money we are spending on expensive creams and serums might just not be able to sort us out the way we’ve been hoping.
I sat down with skin expert Melissa Kimbell from Awake Organics – an aromatherapy skincare range for people who are seeking natural ways to manage the stresses of modern life – to find out how sleep affects our skin.
How is our skin affected by a lack of sleep or poor sleep?
MK: There’s a reason it’s called ‘beauty sleep’. When you’re not sleeping properly, your cortisol (stress hormone) level increases. High levels of cortisol cause inflammation in the body, which translates to dry skin, a dull complexion, and even premature hair loss. Studies suggest that cortisol decreases collagen production. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, and is what gives our skin its elasticity.
When collagen breaks down and isn’t replenished as frequently, our skin starts to sag and loses its firmness. This happens gradually as we age, and isn’t really something that can be avoided. However, a lack of good quality sleep will speed up this process. Studies suggest our bodies have a surge of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) while we are sleeping. HGH helps rebuild and repair body tissue, and increase cell production. The cellular regeneration cycle takes on average 28 days, and peaks each night at 2 am. New cells will always look more radiant, smooth and plump. Old cells tend to be rough and dehydrated, causing skin to feel dry and look more aged.
How can we counteract the effects of a lack of sleep on our skin? Any tips and tricks?
MK: Regular, good quality sleep will enable your body to repair itself and regulate cortisol levels. If you have trouble sleeping, download our Free PDF: Ultimate Checklist For A Good Night’s Sleep (29 key lifestyle factors that may be contributing to sleepless nights, and simple changes to get back on track). It’s important to hydrate with rich, emollient products – especially night. This will help boost lost moisture, and hydrated skin always looks healthier. Look for products that contain ingredients that support the body’s sleep natural functions.
For example, Carrot Seed Oil, which gives skin a firmer, fresher appearance by helping the body remove toxins and water build-up in the dermal tissue. Also, don’t forget to detoxify and exfoliate your skin. If you are hanging onto congested, dead surface cells, your skin will look rough and dry. Look for products that exfoliate gently, using clays and raw honey. These ingredients do a great job without over-drying your skin, and they are gentle enough to use a bit more frequently. I recommend our Frankincense 2-Step System. It contains a rich, hydrating blend of Babassu Kernel, Rosehip and Sea Buckthorn oils, along with a proprietary blend of Carrot Seed, Frankincense and other essential oils that support skin health. For exfoliation I can recommend our Green Tea + Detox Mask, which contains naturally-occurring Glycolic Acid, which sloughs away dead surface cells to reveal smooth, nourished, healthy skin. It also contains Carrot Seed Oil, Frankincense, and Bentonite to purify your pores.
Saying that we need good sleep is all well and good, but how do we go about getting it if we struggle to sleep well or for long periods of time. I spoke to two sleep experts, so that I could share their advice with you. Clinical Hypnotherapist and Sleep Expert Dipti Tait, and Naturalmat Resident Sleep Expert Christabel Majendie BSc MSc MBPsS, shared their tips with me on how to get a good night’s sleep.
What are some of the reasons that cause people to have trouble sleeping?
DT: I would say that in my experience as a Sleep Expert, the main cause of sleeplessness is some form of stress and anxiety in the subconscious system. Worrying causes us to over-think, and this form of hyper-activity in our brain releases stress chemistry (adrenaline and cortisol) into our system, which causes the brain to be over stimulated at night. This is because our body and mind goes into the fight/flight/freeze reaction and this reaction is designed to keep us wide awake as the signalling to shut down and switch off is weakened. The opposite of stress and worry is relaxation, this is why we teach deep relaxation techniques as a skill for our clients. Once a person is skilled at internally relaxing, they usually find that their sleep dramatically improves. Other factors which could cause sleep disturbances are hunger, a change in circumstances or environment, temperature changes, hormonal imbalances, and simple over tiredness.
CM: Occasional sleep disturbances are common. Everyone experiences sleep difficulties at some time during their lives. Life changes (good and bad), stress and anxiety can trigger short term sleep disturbance and this is normal. A poor sleep environment or lifestyle factors can also contribute to sleeping problems. Other reasons for poor sleep include physical health problems, sleep disorders, mental health conditions, pain, medication and substance misuse. If one of these factors is the reason for the sleep problem, this needs to be treated. Sleep problems due to life changes or stress usually sort themselves out and the sleep problem passes away fairly quickly. However, some people find insomnia remains because people have “learnt” to not sleep through changes to their thinking and behaviour. In these cases the most effective treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for insomnia (referred to as CBTi). Clinical trials show this treatment is more effective than sleeping pills in the long term and is recommended by guidelines as the first line of treatment for insomnia.
What are your top 5 tips for a good night’s sleep?
DT: Explore relaxation techniques that work for you to help control any overthinking. For example, relaxation practices such as massage, hypnosis, mindfulness, meditation or yoga. Avoid stimulating exercise or activity too late into the evening. If you happen to wake up during the night, do not switch a TV or screen on. Reading is a better way of nodding back off again. Begin exploring night time sleeping rituals so your brain knows it’s time and gets into a habit to switch into sleep mode. Listen to a good quality hypnosis track, like my Sleep Deeply track as you fall asleep. The binaural beats and positive sleeping suggestions will help train your brain to develop an efficient sleeping habit.
CM: Take exercise, three times a week for 20 -30 minutes. Exercising increases the proportion of deep sleep you get in a night, leading to better quality sleep. However, do not take exercise late in the evening as this can stimulate the nervous system making it difficult for you to drop off to sleep or to stay asleep.
Get out in the natural daylight. Exposure to bright light during the day is essential for melatonin production later in the evening, the hormone that controls sleep. Aim for at least 30 minutes of natural daylight each day to boost your natural production of this hormone.
Avoid using phone, tablets or computers before bed and dim the lights. Bright lights in the evening can suppress melatonin, the hormone that controls sleep and cause disruption your natural body clock. The aim is to transition from light to dark during the evening. In addition, the activities we use these devices for are not conducive to relaxation.
Create a wind-down routine, in the hour before bedtime. Stop any work or household activities then try taking a bath, have a warm decaffeinated drink, read, listen to music or do some relaxation exercises or mindfulness. A bedtime ritual tells the brain it is bedtime and is an essential transition period before sleep that allows you to switch off from the day and relax.
Set consistent bedtimes and rise times, 7 days a week even at weekends. This will regulate your body clock and improve your sleep quality. Wake up times and bedtimes that vary widely across the week can actually create sleep problems as this disrupts your natural sleep processes which regulate your sleep.
Hopefully, now you understand the relationship between sleep and our skin, you can put some of the experts’ tips into action, to improve your sleep at night and the appearance of your skin at the same time. Dream well!
Main Image- Laura Pearson-Smith