Despite its importance to our overall mental and physical health, it's no secret that most of us don't get enough sleep. Work and personal stresses, late night or early morning responsibilities, and simply sub-par sleep hygiene may all be contributing factors.

Whatever the reason, a poor night's rest can be detrimental to the mind and body. In addition, it turns out that the term "beauty sleep" actually holds some scientific weight. Catching the right amount of Z's can not only reset the mind and recharge the body—it can also reduce complexion concerns. Read on to learn from a Derm exactly how sleep affects skin.

Respect the Rhythm

Circadian rhythms are the natural cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that the body goes through in a 24-hour period. They are mostly affected by light and darkness.

For skin, nighttime—specifically during the sleep cycle—is when the restorative functions turn on. While we're asleep, collagen rebuilds, blood flow increases, cell repair from environmental DNA damage occurs, and skin cell turnover picks up. For some people, sleep is the optimal time for medication delivery.

As you've probably heard, the ideal night's sleep for most adults is eight hours. One report suggests that getting one to three additional hours of sleep may provide extra skin benefits in as little as a single day. Never forget that the "Rest = Repair + Restoration" equation is an essential key to skin health.

Take a look at all that happens to your skin in the hours when your body is asleep:

1. Collagen Is On the Clock

The skin is comprised of three layers: the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous fat. The dermis is home to collagen and elastin, the biological structures that keep the skin looking full and taut. Time, genetics, pollution, electronic screens, and, of course, ultraviolet (UV) light all take their toll in weakening these age-defying connective tissues. New collagen is generated when you rest at night, so skimping on sleep can lead to sagging skin.

2. The Blood Is Pumping

Sleep increases blood flow to all organs, including the skin. Once the blood gets pumping, the skin has access to ample essential nutrients and appears plumper. Because of the added benefit of boosted glow due to enhanced circulation, rest and radiance go hand-in-hand.

3. Stress Slips Away

Levels of cortisol, our stress hormone, decrease when we sleep. But when nighttime rest is cut short, cortisol levels rise, catapulting the skin into a pro-inflammatory state. A sleep-deprived person may experience acne, eczema, and psoriasis flares, and the aging process can be sped up.

In addition, increased cortisol causes blood vessels in the skin to enlarge, and this extra fluid translates into bags under the eyes, while the color of the blood contributes to dark circles. Good old cortisol is to blame for the post-party puff that late nights and early mornings tend to give.

4. Moisture Balances Out

Good sleep keeps the skin barrier's pH balanced. If the pH is disrupted by a lack of sleep, then the barrier function is compromised and more water evaporates out. This leads to a dehydrated complexion where fine lines are even more visible.

It's also important to note that skin naturally loses more water at night, so altered sleep patterns can also affect daytime hydration.

5. Skin Care Products Work Their Magic

Remember that at night, the proverbial skin factory is open. Cells are regenerating and repairing, collagen is being produced, blood flow is strong, and cortisol levels are down. This sets the stage for anti-aging skin care products to work to maximum benefit. During those PM hours, the skin isn't burdened with protecting against UV light, pollutants, or physical irritations like it is during the day, so the focus shifts to restoration.

Skin-Sleep Hygiene

The hour or so before sleep is the prime time to apply your products. Here's what to know as you plan your bedtime beauty regimen.

Before hitting the sack, use a gentle, hydrating cleanser to wash your face. This helps prepare for the natural skin cell turnover that takes place at night. Use your collagen- and elastin-building products (retinoids) in your nighttime routine, too, because this is when the two substances are biologically regenerating.

Whatever products you use, make sure a moisturizer is your last step. Remember that skin loses water at night, so a hydrating product is a great way to keep things supple during sleep. EltaMD® PM Therapy Facial Moisturizer is a perfect choice. It strengthens the skin's natural moisture barrier and contains a unique blend of antioxidants and ceramides, which help to reduce the signs of aging.

Finally, with skin care products taken care of, try the following so you can maximize the quality of your sleep:

  • Aim to get eight hours of sleep a night
  • Avoid heavy meals or alcoholic beverages before bed
  • Use soft cotton bedding, which helps minimize damage to skin and hair
  • End screen time at least an hour before bed—to calm a wandering mind, wind down with a book instead

Ultimately, if you have any questions or concerns regarding your skin health, ask a board-certified Dermatologist. They'll be able to suggest a routine that will fit your lifestyle and goals.


  • Mona Gohara, MD

    Dr. Mona Gohara is a Connecticut-based Dermatologist and associate professor of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. She has a particular interest in skin cancer prevention and treatment for skin of color. Dr. Gohara spends a lot of time outdoors with her husband, son, and two dogs, Coco and Cleo. They all wear sunscreen.

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