How Sleep Loss Ages Your Skin ... and What to Do About It

Dr. Janet Zand

March 26, 2021

“Beauty sleep” is real... and the science proves it. 

Studies show that when you sleep, your skin is rebuilding collagen and repairing damage from UV exposure. And the result is fewer wrinkles and age spots.

Sleep also lowers your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes free-radical damage to the skin and throughout your body.

Unfortunately, a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by. There are so many things that can disrupt sleep, from the recent time change to stress to illness.

The good news is, there are some easy ways to get your beauty sleep again.

Here’s what to do...

If you haven’t slept well for two nights in a row, make sleep a nonnegotiable priority. This isn’t the time to stay up late binge watching a new TV show! It’s just too easy to slip into a pattern of sleeping less and less. So at least for the next couple of weeks, try to get to bed on time.

In general, adults should schedule 7-9 hours of sleep per night. So decide on your wake-up time, then set your bedtime for 7-9 hours earlier.

One easy way to do this is on your smartphone. Most phones have a bedtime feature that will even let you know when it’s time to start winding down.

And while we’re talking about bedtime, this is also a time when you want to practice really good sleep hygiene. You know, all those “rules” for getting better sleep that we know but don’t always follow!

As a reminder, here are the basic guidelines for good sleep hygiene:

• Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Try decluttering, moving phone chargers elsewhere, and adding a sound machine to block out noise. If you like aromatherapy, consider getting a diffuser.

• Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature. Studies show that most people should aim for between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius) for the best sleep.

• Create a relaxing bedtime routine. One great routine for better sleep is to take a warm bath an hour or two before bedtime. This encourages a natural cool-down effect afterward, signaling to your body that it’s time for sleep.

• Avoid screen time before bed. If you really must use screens, use a warm filter on your device or a blue-light blocking screen protector. That way, the high-intensity light won’t interfere with melatonin production, which you need for sleep.

• Try to get regular exercise, but schedule it for the morning or afternoon. Exercising right before bed can keep you up at night.

• Avoid alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, and nicotine in the hours before you wind down. These can either keep you from falling asleep or make you more likely to wake in the middle of the night.

Another tip for getting your sleep back on track is to avoid naps, or keep them short. Why? Because long naps — especially late in the day — will make it harder for you to go to sleep on time.

In fact, instead of a nap, a better idea would be to get outdoors for a bit. Sunlight has a powerful influence on your circadian rhythms and can help you feel more awake. Then, by the time bedtime rolls around, you’ll actually feel tired enough to sleep.

When sleep hygiene isn’t enough

Good sleep starts with good sleep practices and habits. However, for some, that’s not enough. If you require more help to fall and stay asleep, ask your doctor about natural sleep-promoting supplements.

Supplements like melatonin, valerian root, magnesium, L-theanine, and GABA can help you get better sleep while adjusting to the time change.

For more serious and long term sleep issues — like insomnia — one of the most effective solutions is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).

CBT-I is a short, structured, and evidence-based approach to overcoming insomnia. And it’s really effective: as many as 70% to 80% of patients with insomnia report falling asleep faster, more time spent asleep, and waking up less during sleep after CBT-I. In some patients, CBT-I is even more effective than sleep medications.

You can find CBT-I practitioners through organizations such as the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine and the American Board of Sleep Medicine.

So try these tips out starting today, and remember to make sleep a priority! Your skin will look better, and you’ll feel a lot better, too.

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