I talk a lot about the benefits of sleep–from improved cardiovascular health to increased concentration, lower levels of depression and even benefits for your sex life. But one thing sleep experts tend to talk less about is the cosmetic side of sleep–the so called concept of beauty sleep.
You don’t have to know much about sleep to have heard the term, beauty sleep. Chances are you’ve come across the idea of beauty sleep more on the covers of magazines or scrolling through social media than in sleep research journals.
So the question is: is beauty sleep real?
I’ll tell you what you need to know about the advertising and claims behind beauty sleep, the sleep science behind sleep and appearance, and how you can optimize your sleep to look younger and more refreshed–no expensive lotions or creams required.
What is Beauty Sleep?
First, don’t confuse beauty sleep with the sleeping beauty diet and its dangers.
Beauty sleep doesn’t have a scientific definition, but the concept is simple: you need rest to look better. Look it up in the dictionary and you’ll get “sleep considered to be sufficient to keep one looking young and beautiful.”
Skeptical? Me too.
The way beauty sleep is used, too often, is like a quick fix diet. And as I’ve written, even popular diets like paleo and keto have complex connections to sleep, and are not quick fixes; the same is true for sleep.
Ways Beauty Sleep is Real
While I reject the pop culture definition of beauty sleep, sleep can, in fact, affect our appearance. Here’s how, and the sleep science behind beauty sleep:
Sleep Removes Skin-Damaging Free Radicals
We know that sleep is critical for neurological function. Research published in PubMed and subsequent studies have shown that during sleep, brain cells are repaired from damage caused by free radicals. But that also has implications beyond our brain health.
Free radicals and toxic waste can damage not only our brains but also our skin. Free radicals speed up our skin’s aging process and cause a drop in antioxidant enzymes which are important for retaining skin health and a more youthful appearance.
While much research focuses on the impact of environmental free radicals and skin health, such as UV light, pollution, and smoke, sleep actually repairs by releasing a chemical called sebum. Sebum, in turn, helps form a protective layer from environmental free radicals as you sleep.
You can’t sleep away skin damage from years before but you can prevent further skin damage, repair cells, and protect against further damage; by getting enough restorative sleep. When you do, you’ll be less quickly impacted by environmental free radicals, meaning your skin will stay looking younger for longer.
Sleep May Help You Be Perceived as More Attractive
Not only is sleep deprivation linked to early death; research suggests that others can tell when you haven’t been getting enough sleep.
A small experiment published in BMJ, a leading British peer reviewed journal, took photos of participants that were described as sleep deprived, and of those with adequate sleep.
Observers were randomly assigned to rate photos based upon health and attractiveness. Overall, those who were sleep deprived were rated as less healthy and attractive, while those with adequate ‘beauty’ sleep were seen as more attractive.
Of course more research needs to be done, but the message is clear: sleep could make you seem more healthy, youthful and beautiful, even if nothing else about your appearance has changed.
Want a way to work on looking better and also stay cool, even as you sleep? Try adding performance sleepwear to your bedtime routine, start with something like these moisture wicking pajamas. Available in different styles and with cutting edge fabric technology to help you sleep, you’ll never want to go back to cotton again.
Lack of Sleep is Linked to More Wrinkles
Another reason that beauty sleep is real has to do with those pesky wrinkles and fine lines. Trust me, I wish that I could tell you that a good night’s sleep could erase them or prevent them entirely. But there is evidence that the more you put off sleep, the more wrinkles you’re likely to have.
University of Hospitals Case Medical Center studied 60 women for a month. Those who slept five or less hours consistently had more wrinkles and even sun spots than those who regularly slept seven or more hours. That makes sense, because sleep repairs our cells, including our skin cells. Less sleep can also mean less skin elasticity.
Sleeping more can’t prevent skin damage or aging, but restorative sleep really can be beauty sleep for fine lines and wrinkles.
The complication? Not only are some of us more or less susceptible to wrinkles, but your sleep position can make a difference too. Another pro tip: reduce the amount of friction your skin gets from tossing and turning.
You can do that by giving yourself the proper nutrition and supplementing when you need to. Magnesium in particular can be healthful: I trust Jigsaw Health Magnesium. Of course, you should always consult a physician before starting any supplement regime.
Sleep Reduces Puffy, Dull Skin
Ever wake up and find your cheeks or skin look puffy? Or do you feel like your skin’s been looking just a bit dull? Chances are lack of sleep could be to blame.
In fact, sleep deprivation is tied to decreased blood flow in your cheeks, causing a lack of color and vibrancy and leading to that dreaded dull appearance. Insomnia can also be linked to blood vessels under your eyes to dilate, leading to dark circles and that dreaded puffiness.
This one’s pretty obvious, but dull and puffy skin makes us look tired, less engaged, and perhaps less attractive and even older than we really are. While there are makeup products to cover puffy and dark eyes, this is a quick fix for an underlying problem.
How to Make the Most of Beauty Sleep
So hopefully I’ve convinced you that beauty sleep is real, but also not a magic solution or quick fix. Instead, think of sleep as an investment and a way to keep a more vibrant and youthful appearance without spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on skin products and treatments. Here are a few quick tips to make the most out of beauty sleep.
Create a Healthy Sleep Environment
Part of beauty sleep isn’t just the sleep itself, but where you’re sleeping. Change your sheets regularly, set the thermostat to around 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and consider curtains to black out light from disturbing your sleep.
Get that Snoring Checked Out
Dark circles, puffy eyes, and premature wrinkles aren’t just about appearance–they could be signs of an underlying sleep disorder. This is especially true if you or your partner is a snorer. Take my snoring quiz to get started.
Battle Insomnia-Induced Dull Skin
First of all, you need to be able to get to sleep and stay to sleep. You’ll also want to stay hydrated throughout the day. Both can keep skin looking refreshed and vibrant.
Invest in Your Mental Health
You can get all the sleep in the world, have glowing, youthful skin and still not feel attractive. Part of beauty isn’t just about good skin, but the energy you give out. I recommend also keeping a journal–my go to is the Best Self Journal –to jot down thoughts, feelings, and whatever you need to if you find yourself struggling during the day or if you wake up in the middle of the night. Regular exercise, staying connected, and seeking therapy may also be good steps.