Sleep and your Skin

Dr Marianne Nolan|Skin Health
23 June 2019

Are you one of the many people who try to squeeze far too much into each 24 hour period and often sacrifice sleep in order to get everything done?

The link between sleep and skin

When we are sleep deprived our bodies release more of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces an inflammatory response in the skin which can cause your skin to become itchy, further interrupting sleep.

When we are sleep deprived the blood supply to the skin decreases, which can cause your skin to lose its glow.

Of course, not getting enough sleep can also create the signs of tiredness on our face, such as dark circles and bags or wrinkles under and around our eyes.

Sleep is essential for healthy and vibrant looking skin.

Essential tips for better sleep

 Good sleep hygiene is important to ensure a good nights sleep. The following tips will all help you to get the quality sleep that you need to help you look and feel your best

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Your body’s internal clock functions best when you stick to a routine rather than varying the time that you sleep. Aim at 7-9 hours of sleep (that means actual sleep, not time spent in bed) each night. And remember, if you get less sleep than you need, you should factor in “catch up” sleep, as the body carries what’s known as ‘sleep debt’ until you pay back those un-slept hours.

Get some safe sun exposure first thing in the morning.
Exposure to morning light for 20 minutes early in the day helps regulate your body’s melatonin levels. Melatonin makes us sleepy and is suppressed by light. It occurs naturally in the evening, helping us to feel sleepy, to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.

When we travel and develop jetlag, it’s largely because the change in time zone means melatonin is produced during the day, instead of during the night time. It can take one day for every time zone that you cross for your body’s melatonin to start being released in line with the day/night timing of your destination.

Ensure your bedroom is dark.
This means no artificial lights such as clock radios or screens. Light will suppress the amount the melatonin your body produces and will therefore interfere with your sleep quality. Darkness also increases ADHD (antidiuretic hormone) meaning that your urine production will decrease overnight so that you are less likely to be woken by that pesky full bladder in the wee hours.

Some evidence also suggests that just wearing an eye cover isn’t enough to offset the effect of light on our sleep, as our skin itself can still detect light and sleep can still be disturbed.

Turn off your screens.
Avoid exposure to artificial light in the hour prior to going to bed. This means stepping away from your computer, tablet, mobile and TV. These devices all produce light that interferes with you body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that help us to fall and stay asleep.

Plus, the content we’re consuming on those devices can be producing stress hormones (watching something scary, something include fighting or violence, something sad can produce stress hormones) or energising hormones (something exciting or lively) which can make it hard to move into a calm and peaceful state for sleeping soon afterwards.

Many people believe they can’t fall asleep until late into the evening, when they’re so tired not even entertaining TV will keep them awake, but in reality, they’ve just lost the ability to calm their mind down and ease into sleep. Instead, they push their body to the limit of its ability to stay awake, which is not a healthy, long-term solution.

Try spending at least an hour before you want to fall asleep doing quite, calming activity in a dimly lit room, such as a bath, reading a calming book (nothing scary or too exciting!), enjoy talking with family or house mates, meditating or listening to calming, gentle music.

Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
We all know caffeine helps us wake up. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, but if you’re struggling to fall asleep, cut it out to see if it helps.

Caffeine helps the body stay awake and can affect the quality of sleep if consumed prior to bedtime. Caffeine can take hours to be removed from your system, so if you are caffeine sensitive you are best to avoid caffeinated beverages from midday onwards.

Avoid alcohol.
Alcohol can make us drowsy and help us fall asleep more quickly but this will be followed by light sleep and often early morning wakening.

Alcohol is metabolised in the liver into a toxin called acetaldehyde which can interfere with you sleep by playing havoc with your body’s natural sleep cycle.

Alcohol prevents you going into a deep sleep which is the most restful part. Alcohol inhibits you going into REM sleep, the first part of the sleep cycle. In a typical night you would expect to go through 6-7 REM sleep cycles. When you drink you only achieve 1-2 REM sleep cycles. This explains why after a few drinks you can feel exhausted the next day.

Avoid rich foods late in the day.
These rich foods can repeat on us and cause heartburn and other digestive issues, which can interfere with your sleep. Good digestion is necessary for all kinds of health factors, so ensuring your body gets rest and can digest well is vital.

Exercise during the day to help “buy” a good night’s sleep.
Physical exhaustion is very useful to assist in falling asleep. The optimal time to exercise for good sleep is around 3 pm but any exercise will help, but avoiding exerting yourself on the last 1-2 hours before you want to sleep because this can heat up your body and cause difficulty in falling asleep.

Practice meditation or mindfulness
As mentioned above, calming activity, such as meditation or mindfulness, prior to bedtime can significantly increase likelihood of falling and staying asleep. They can encourage your to be in the moment and not dwell on the next day’s problems or the stresses of the day just finishing, which can aide the production of calming hormones needed for good quality sleep.

Many great online or app-based tools for meditation and mindfulness exist, including those offered by Headspace, Openground and many others.

Establish a night time ritual 
To get yourself ready for sleep, a bed time ritual can be very powerful. This might consist of having a bath and a cup of herbal tea, preparing your bedroom for rest, dimming the lights, cleaning your teeth and popping your favourite skin care products on your face. Each time you repeat your bed time routine, it trains your brain to prepare for sleep, and soon you’ll find yourself falling asleep more easily.

Eat a sleep-inducing snack.
There is some benefit in eating a meal containing the amino acid tryptophan at dinner because this amino acid assists in producing the hormone melatonin that helps induce sleep. Foods high in tryptophan include turkey, chicken, eggs and nuts.

Be kind to yourself.
When we’re unkind to ourselves, through thinking self-negatively, pushing ourselves to do more, ignoring the body’s signals that it needs to rest or neglecting our emotional needs, we create a similar internal stress to that experienced when others are unkind, bullying or neglectful toward us.

This can affect our health in many ways and can definitely create sleep disturbances – we’d find it hard to sleep with someone standing next to us telling us we’re terrible or failing at something and it’s no different if we’re doing that to ourselves.

To help you move toward self-kindness, finish your day with a gratitude practice or a routine of listing the best things about yourself and your day.

Feel your skin could use a little more than these tips?

Helping your skin look its best is our business. If you’d like to know more about whether your skin could benefit from one of our cosmetic procedures, explore our website or make an appointment with our dermatologist to discuss the concerns you have with your skin. Call our receptionists today on (02) 9953 9522.


Written by Dr Marianne Nolan.
Dr Marianne has worked in our clinic as a cosmetic physician for 20 years. She loves to help our patients look great for their age.