By Parinaz Samimi
Smile lines, crow’s feet, dark circles, and undereye bags: these are all just inevitable signs of aging, right? In some ways, yes. Plenty of skin remedies seek to hide the signs of aging and promote healthy, youthful skin, but they only do so much. You can’t turn back the clock, but you do have control over a crucial player in skin health now: sleep. Read on to learn more about what happens to your largest organ when you’re deprived of rest.
1. Dark Circles
Staying up late watching just one more episode of that new show means you’ll likely be going heavy on the under-eye concealer the next morning. A 2014 study found that insufficient sleep correlates with more severe dark circles under the eyes, which leaves you looking fatigued and less healthy overall.
Stuck in a rut of falling asleep with the TV on? Try swapping the remote for a book. Books don’t emit blue light the way your TV or tablet does, which means they won’t interrupt your body’s production of melatonin. When you start feeling sleepy at the end of a chapter, you’ll be able to put your book down and head to bed without your mind racing and your body convinced that it’s still daytime. Start with this list of enticing summer reads if you need a little inspiration.
2. Lingering Sunburns
Mindlessly scrolling through your social feeds into the wee hours after a day outside? Your sunburn might take a lot longer to fade than usual. In a collaborative study evaluating the effects of sleep deprivation on skin aging, Estee Lauder and University Hospitals Case Medical Center noted participants’ skin took longer to recover from a sunburn when participants weren’t getting sufficient sleep. This suggests that the skin’s ability to heal itself is compromised when you don’t sleep enough, leaving you with more days of burning, peeling skin.
If you’ve tried and failed to stop checking your phone before bed, start small. Experts at the National Sleep Foundation say that avoiding screen time for as little as 30 minutes before bedtime is enough to allow your body to prepare for sleep. While an hour or two of screen-free time is even better, 30 minutes feels like a less intimidating goal. Once you work your way up to 30 minutes, keep pushing towards one or more screen-free hours before bed.
3. Fine Lines
In addition to causing stress, anxiety, and a host of other physical conditions, a lack of sleep can add to the tally of fine lines around your eyes. When your body misses out on restorative REM sleep, it doesn’t produce as much collagen. Decreased production of this important protein means your skin can’t repair itself as quickly as it normally would. Collagen production already declines steadily as you age, so by not sleeping enough, you can accelerate your body’s natural aging process.
Tossing and turning at night or having trouble falling asleep is frustrating, even more so when you have a healthy bedtime routine. Before assuming you’re just a “bad sleeper,” try evaluating your sleeping environment. Upgrading your pillow, switching from cheap sheets to crisp cotton percale, or investing in a new mattress or topper could all make a big difference in the way you sleep.
4. Dullness and General Fatigue
The telltale signs of fatigue after busy evenings and late bedtimes are easy to spot. Your skin takes on a duller tone due to higher water loss and a poorer skin barrier, and your face shows downturned lips and drooping eyelids. Given that, it’s not surprising that research has shown you’re more likely to have a negative perception of your appearance after a night of poor sleep, as are the people around you. Don’t let a lack of sleep dictate the impressions others have of you—or that you have of yourself.
If you have trouble taking time for yourself before bed, try starting with a warm cup of herbal tea. Researchers have found evidence that passion flower—a popular ingredient in many sleep-encouraging teas—raises levels of a chemical in the brain responsible for slowing activity of certain brain cells, which brings on feelings of tiredness. Even the ritual of drinking tea can become a signal to your body that it’s time to relax.
Some days, getting enough sleep is much more difficult than others. However, making up for the days when you get less than seven hours of sleep is not as simple as just sleeping in. Once done, skin damage can’t be reversed, and rather than helping you feel more awake, sleep bingeing on the weekends to make up for a low-sleep week only further disrupts your sleep schedule. Skipping out on sleep has lasting effects on your skin and the rate at which it ages. Make sleep a priority, and you’ll wake up the best version of yourself—at any age.