Here’s What Happens to Your Skin When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
Yes, beauty sleep is real.
It’s easy to slip into a pattern of sleeping less and less. A late night at work here, a dinner out with friends there, and suddenly you’re averaging far below the National Sleep Foundation–recommended seven to nine hours of rest each night.
Though it may not seem like a huge deal, getting less than seven hours of sleep can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. And there’s one, more visible side-effect of getting too little sleep: premature aging of the skin.
Yes, my restless friends, beauty sleep is a real thing and you need a lot of it. So we went to the experts—Jeannel Astarita, an esthetician and founder of Just Ageless Beauty Body Sculpting + Beauty Lab, and Gretchen Frieling, MD, a triple board-certified dermatopathologist and CEO of GFaceMD—to break down why sleep is fundamental to maintaining healthy skin, and what to do if you can’t seem to in enough Zzzs each night.
Is beauty sleep for skin really a thing?
This question received a resounding “yes” from both experts.
“During sleep is when the body rests and regenerates through the elimination and replacement of dead cells, including skin and blood cells,” Astarita says. “More sleep also lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes free-radical damage to the skin and other systems in the body.”
Dr. Frieling adds that getting enough sleep has dozens of anti-aging benefits for skin, including the natural, sleep-induced production of collagen, which prevents sagging skin and wrinkles. So over time, consistent sleep deprivation can cause a more rapid depletion of skin elasticity and plumpness. And in the short term, as anyone who’s had a rough night already knows, Dr. Frieling says lack of sleep can most certainly result in puffy eyes and/or dreaded dark circles.
What happens to skin if you don’t get enough sleep?
First, there’s the obvious. As Dr. Freiling says, not only will your body feel tired if you sleep fewer hours, you will also disrupt your general sleep cycle and those effects will show on your face.
“Your skin can become imbalanced, leading to a dehydrated, sallow complexion, acne, and redness,” she says. “When you get less sleep, you affect your skin’s pH levels, which lowers the moisture level and depletes your natural glow.”
And, Astarita notes, that lack of sleep also means that your body isn’t getting enough time to regenerate any cells that have been damaged from sun exposure or blemishes, which means you’re more likely to notice fine lines and discoloration in the morning.
No one can totally avoid sleepless nights—so what’s the best way to deal?
If you do happen to have a late or restless night every once in a while, don’t freak out. Astarita says it’s easy to course-correct that behavior and help your skin by drinking lots of water to help plump up cells in the morning. “You can also keep a couple of spoons in the freezer and hold them on your eyes to reduce under-eye bags and dark circles,” she adds.
Unfortunately, pulling all-nighters here and there is a young adult’s game, Dr. Frieling says. As with anything, aging makes skin less resilient to sleep deprivation. “The younger you are, the quicker you bounce back from everything,” she says. “A 20-year-old’s skin will be less likely to show the effects of an all-nighter as drastically as a 40-year-old’s.”
Skin takes an even worse beating if your late night involves caffeine or alcohol, too. If the all-nighter involves caffeine or alcohol, that can leave skin even more dehydrated—with alcohol consumption (especially binge drinking), the skin will be puffy and red,” Dr. Frieling explains. “If you’ve stayed up eating salty food, like peanuts or pretzels, you can also expect to wake up with a bloated face.”
Staying up late won’t age you overnight, but Dr. Frieling does recommend trying to do so as healthily as possible to help your skin recover “by hydrating with water, eating foods low in sodium, consuming protein, taking makeup off so it’s on for 24 hours, moisturizing, and keeping alcohol consumption to no more than two glasses.”
The best products to reverse skin damage from lack of sleep
Luckily, there are a few products to help combat all the skin effects of sleeplessness. Astarita says using a retinol product before bed is one of the best things you can do for skin.
“I love the AlphaRet Overnight Cream from SkinBetter Science,” she says. “It combines the benefits of a retinoid with alpha-hydroxy acid for brightening and targeting fine lines without being irritating as some retinol products can be.”
Dr. Frieling recommends Dermalogica Overnight Repair Serum, which also comes supercharged with peptides to firm and renew, as well as Rodial Super Acids X-treme Hangover Mask, a triple-action product made of a resurfacing clay. Lastly, she says, invest in a Laneige Water Sleeping Mask. “This is great for dehydrated complexions that crave moisture,” she says. It comes formulated with highly concentrated Hydro Ionized Mineral Water to “deliver intense doses of moisture to stressed, parched skin.”
But, as both experts note, don’t just rely on beauty products—head to bed instead!