The Science of Beauty Sleep

March 25, 2018

Beauty sleep is a real thing.  How do you know if you are getting enough sleep?  How do you know if your sleep is as restful and restorative as it needs to be?  What happens when you sleep? We spend a third of our lives asleep-something important must be going on during that time, right?  


Getting only 5 hours of sleep a night

can lead to twice as many fine lines

as sleeping 7 hours.



Most of us need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night.  Sleep deprivation is dangerous and can result in a number of serious consequences including memory loss, weight gain, depression, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and premature aging.  Wait what?  Premature aging?   Sleep deprivation affects wound healing, collagen growth, skin hydration, and skin texture. Inflammation is also higher in sleep-deprived patients, causing outbreaks of acne, eczema, psoriasis, and skin allergies.  As a matter of fact, some sleep specialists suggest that if you get fewer than 6 hours it can affect your appearance; getting only 5 hours a night can lead to twice as many fine lines as sleeping 7 hours would.





What Happens When You Sleep?

There are four stages of sleep and we typically experience 4-5 sleep cycles per night.  Our bodies are undergoing restoration during sleep, there are key hormones regulated by sleep that affect your skin.

But let’s start with a brief review of collagen.  What is collagen and why is it important? Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, there are 16 types and each have a specific role in the body.  When it comes to beauty, we focus on collagen type 1 and 3, as these are important for skin structure. As we age, collagen production declines and we end up with sagging skin, wrinkles, and cellulite.  While this is not level of evidence 1  (multicenter, randomized controlled trial data), there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that consumption collagen may improve skin function and structure. In double-blind, placebo-controlled studies 2.5–5 grams of collagen hydrolysate used in women aged 35–55 once daily for eight weeks significantly improved skin elasticity, skin moisture, and skin texture.  Most of you have heard me preach about the need for vitamin C. When consuming collagen, you can benefit from also consuming vitamin C to ensure your body can convert the collagen into a useable protein.  It is estimated that 30% of adults in the United States are not taking enough vitamin C.



Without vitamin C, collagen formation is disrupted, causing a wide variety of problems throughout the body.


Okay, so let’s get back to sleep.  (Watch for another blog on anti-aging nutrition coming soon). Growth hormone is a natural hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. It is secreted during deep sleep and is important for cellular and tissue repair processes as well as collagen production.  Sleep deprivation decreases the secretion of growth hormone and thus skin repair. So let’s put this together: As you age collagen production decreases, if you aren’t getting enough sleep you are bringing on a double whammy of less collagen production.


Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. Its levels increase during the dark hours of sleep. It acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent in the body.  Collagen is degraded by free radicals and inflammation, antioxidants fight free radicals and reduce inflammation.


Cortisol is the stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. It is also increased with sleep deprivation.  Cortisol triggers inflammatory changes; inflammation breaks down proteins in the skin that keep it radiant and smooth.  Cortisol breaks down collagen in the skin causing the skin to be more fragile, this leads to increased wrinkles. Cortisol naturally decreases while we sleep, lower levels allow your skin to regenerate and protect itself.


Studies have found that lack of sleep can decrease the skin barrier function and lead to water loss from the skin.




Lack of sleep has also been found to decrease our immune response.  Our body increases the production of antioxidants while we sleep, these protect us from DNA damaging UV rays and free radicals.  One study looked at the time it took the skin to recover from ultraviolet induced skin damage. In sleep deprived individuals this recovery time was increased.


Finding this hard to believe?  The concept of beauty sleep has been evaluated in a recent clinical trial at the University Hospitals (UH) Case Medical Center.  The study involved 60 women between the ages of 30 and 49. The study found significant differences between the good quality and poor-quality sleepers.  Sleep-deprived women who participated in the study showed signs of premature skin aging, including fine lines and wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, reduced elasticity, and sagging skin. They also had a decreased ability to recover after sun exposure, with more sluggish recovery from sunburn. Subjects completed a questionnaire evaluating their perception of attractiveness, and poor sleepers reported lower satisfaction with their appearance.  


Yep, Beauty Sleep is real. 


It is estimated that 30-40% of American get less than 6 hours of sleep per night; that’s 50-70 million sleep-deprived people.  These numbers are eerily similar to our rates of obesity in America (36.5%)-and possibly for good reason. A growing body of research suggests a link between sleep deprivation and obesity, we aren’t certain why but it may be secondary to a disruption in the key hormones (like ghrelin) that control appetite, leaving the sleep deprived hungrier than their well-rested counterparts.  From this perspective, beauty sleep means whole body beauty. Getting adequate sleep is a cornerstone of good health.


Chronic lack of sleep potentially leads to cardiovascular disease, obesity, decreased immunity, diabetes, premature aging, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and increased inflammatory states.  


Sleep Deprivation Increases your risk of:


high blood pressure