News & Views

Sleeping beauty

By Zach Pearl, PhD Staff

It is well known that poor sleep can cause many diseases, but could it also make you look older and less attractive?
The skin is the largest organ of the human body and plays a major role in maintaining homeostasis and protection. Several factors, including poor sleep, autoimmune diseases, ageing and stress, can change the skin integrity and make it look older. Just like any other body cell , skin cells take advantage of sleep time to repair and revitalize the skin.

Lack of sleep causes the skin to age faster

The main component of the skin is collagen which plays a key role in providing integrity and elasticity. It also gives the skin its glow, bounce, and translucency. The skin produces collagen during sleep. In case of sleep deprivation there is a breakdown of collagen, which may lead to the skin becoming thinner, showcasing wrinkles1 2.

Deep sleep contributes to what people call “beauty sleep”. During sleep the growth hormone is secreted and helps in repairing and rebuilding body tissues like muscles and bones. Many of the body tissues also increase cell production and slow protein breakdown during deep sleep. Since proteins are the building blocks needed to repair cell damage, deep sleep can be truly called “beauty sleep.”

Poor sleep worsens existing skin conditions

Studies have shown that poor sleep can lead to increased levels of stress hormones. These hormones disrupt the immune system and increase the severity of inflammatory skin conditions. These conditions can show up as increased acne, increased skin sensitivity, increased allergic contact dermatitis reactions, and increased irritant dermatitis and psoriasis3. Incidentally, skin diseases can in turn result in increased itching/burning sensation, which can disrupt sleep4.

Sleep is a natural moisturizer

While sleeping, the body’s hydration rebalances. Insufficient sleep results in poor water balance, and as a consequence to puffy bags under the eyes and under-eye circles. It also leads to dryness and more visible wrinkles. Sleep may help reduce the severity of wrinkles in the neck and face by regaining the moisture.

Poor sleep contributes to weight gain and obesity

As detailed in our previous column – “Sleep problems increase the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes“, people who suffer from sleep difficulties are at higher risk for obesity and high blood sugar levels. Therefore they are likely to develop type II diabetes and cardiovascular diseases5. There is an increase in sleep problems with age, with a major reduction in the deep sleep duration which is crucial for good health6. The rise in short sleep duration and poor quality sleep is concurrent with the epidemic of obesity, suggesting a link between the two. Obesity in children and adolescents is a growing health concern because of its adverse impact on metabolism, blood pressure, respiratory disease and quality of life.

Hunger signals affecting the brain are controlled by two opposing hormones: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin signals the brain when it is time to eat and leptin tells the brain when we are satisfied7. Several studies have shown that lack of sleep causes a major drop in levels of leptin and rise in levels of ghrelin8.

Additionally, sleep-deprived people may either be too tired to exercise or they are simply awake longer and have more opportunities to eat. Interestingly, studies also found that in addition to increased hunger, people also experience more cravings for high-calorie, carbohydrate-rich foods such as sweets, salty snacks and starchy food9.

Poor sleep results in development of dark circles

Once sleep-deprived, the collagen in a person’s skin breaks down and the skin loses its elasticity and ability to regenerate, as a result – it becomes thinner. While the skin becomes thinner, the blood vessels under the eyes dilate and appear as dark circles.

Hair loss due to lack of sleep

Just like the rest of the skin, the scalp and hair age because of internal and external factors. Stress is a common and well-known factor of hair growth disorders and hair loss. A recent study found that the stress hormone, cortisol, reduces the synthesis and accelerates the degradation of important skin elements by approximately 40%10.

Oxidative stress, a lack of balance between the production of free radicals and the ability to cancel them out, is a widely accepted theory used to explain the ageing processes. When sleep is deprived, there is an increase in oxidative stress resulting in graying hair, increased hair loss and decreased hair production.

Studies have found that melatonin, the sleep hormone, also has an effect on hair growth. It showed to increase hair growth. Lack of sleep decreases the overall melatonin level which could lead to hair loss11.

The objectivity of beauty

The skin is the largest organ of the human body and plays a central role in how our appearance is perceived by others and by ourselves12. Recent studies show that sleep deprivation can have an impact on objective ratings of skin appearance. It was found that the sleep deprivation is “readily observable from a set of facial cues”. Observers can detect small changes in such things as more droopy corners of the mouth. Sleep deprived people are identifiable, even by observers who do not know them, because they generally have more swollen eyes, darker circles under the eyes, paler skin, droopier eyelids and more wrinkles than rested people. Observers could also distinguish between sleep deprivation and fatigue by the look of glazed eyes. When researchers showed pictures of sleep-deprived people to observers, the observers rated them as appearing less healthy that rested people. They rated the sleep-deprived people as looking more tired and less attractive13.

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