Why we all need beauty sleep

How did you sleep last night? If the answer is ‘badly’, you’re not alone.

According to research from the Australasian Sleep Association, around one-third of Australian adults suffer regularly from sleep troubles.

Another study found that the lifestyle aspects most affected by a lack of slumber were energy levels, mood and health, but sometimes the evidence is staring us straight in the face after a night spent tossing and turning.

People often say they look terrible when peering bleary-eyed in the mirror at a sleep-deprived face first thing in the morning.

A study for ‘Sleep magazine’ has even been carried out to identify the facial cues that can signal poor sleep (volume 36, issue 9). It found that two nights with less-than-ideal sleep may add to:

  • hanging eyelids
  • swollen eyes
  • darker undereye circles
  • paler skin
  • more wrinkles and fine lines
  • more droopy corners of the mouth.

A sleep-deprived face with these attributes is actually perceived as less attractive and less healthy. And it’s not just looks that are compromised, sleep-deprived individuals have been found to be less optimistic and sociable, worse at understanding and expressing emotions, and may be more prone to accidents.

So, why does our skin show the telltale signs of a less than restful night?
“Not only do our bodies recharge when we sleep, but our skin does as well,” says clinical facialist Kate Kerr, founder of Kate Kerr London.

“During sleep, we heal, restore and eliminate toxins from the skin.

“If sleep is compromised, so is the body’s ability to carry out these essential skin functions.”

“The quality and length of sleep you experience every night can have a profound impact on your skin’s overall health.”

Different repair processes happen throughout an eight-hour period, which is why we need a full night’s kip.

“During the first three hours of sleep, your body will start producing the human growth hormone from the pituitary gland,” Kerr continues.

“As we age, this hormone is necessary for the maintenance of youthful and radiant skin.

“Without this hormone release, the skin is not repaired from daily damage and thus induces the ageing process.”

Next, in the middle two hours of sleep, the production of melatonin is increased.

“Melatonin is a hormone that is responsible for regulating your circadian rhythm, but also acts as an antioxidant that helps protect the skin from damaging free radicals,” Kerr says.

In the final three hours, called the active REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stage, levels of stress hormone cortisol decrease.

“The skin’s temperature also drops to its lowest point, allowing muscles to relax and become immobile, giving skin its deepest recovery of the night,” Kerr says.

So, that’s why poor sleep makes us look terrible, but what can we do to counteract these effects?

What can we do?
First of all, the obvious answer is to get more sleep. That may not always be easy, but even if you can’t eliminate certain factors, there are other ways to improve your ‘sleep hygiene’.

Experts recommend making sure your bedroom is completely dark (or use an eye mask), kept at a cool temperate of 16 to 18 degrees, and free from noise, technology and clutter.

As for lifestyle factors, you should avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol before bed and maintain a regular bedtime.

Try sleeping with your head elevated; this has been shown to help with snoring, acid reflux and nasal drip. All issues which can disturb sleep, so reducing them can improve your quality of sleep and, therefore, improve your skin. This can be as simple as adding an extra pillow, or a wedge to the top of your mattress.

Sleeping on your back or with a special pillowcase can also help. Seeing as you are sleeping for a third of each day, the position you sleep in can have an impact on your skin. Sleeping on a rough cotton pillowcase can irritate and compress your skin, so if you prefer to sleep on your stomach or side, a satin or silk pillowcase can minimise irritation.

In terms of skincare, Kerr suggests three steps to maximise your chances of waking up looking refreshed.

“Cleansing your skin before bed is a vital step to remove every last bit of make-up, but also the spoils of the day, such as pollution and natural oils that build up and oxidise on the skin’s surface,” she says.

“Always double cleanse, starting with a gel-based cleanser for oily/normal skin, or a moisturising gentle cleanser for drier skin, then follow with an acid-based cleanser, which helps to increase the rate at which the cells turn over.”

Cleansing before bed is arguably more important than cleansing in the morning. You don’t need anything expensive or industrial, just a gentle cleanser that removes make-up, dirt and any extra oil that has accumulated on the skin.

These things settle on the skin throughout the day and, if left overnight, can sink in and clog pores. This can cause:

  • infections
  • inflammation
  • pimples
  • dry skin
  • large pores.


Kerr also recommends anti-ageing hero ingredient retinol.

“Retinol helps to stimulate a large percentage of the different cells within the skin to behave as fresher, healthier and younger versions of themselves.

“This not only improves collagen and hyaluronic acid production, but also speeds up cell turnover to improve skin function, hydration, and to smooth and brighten.”

Finally, give yourself a mini massage with a serum or facial oil to prevent puffiness.

“This helps to stimulate circulation, which increases oxygen and nutrients, and also encourages the skin to detox by activating lymph drainage.”

Do you have a nightly skincare routine?

– With PA

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Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

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