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The Links Between Sleep and Skin Health
In aid of the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep Awareness Week (March 11–17), which highlights the importance of good sleep health for individuals to achieve their personal, family and professional goals, we find out how we can help clients overhaul their bedtime habits for skin health and wellbeing.
What effect does a lack of sleep have on the skin?
"Dark circles around the eyes are the most common tell-tale sign of a poor night's sleep," says Dr Natalie Blakely, aesthetic doctor and owner of Light Touch Clinic in Weybridge, Surrey. These are caused by an increase in cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone, which the body produces lots of when it's tired.
Cortisol causes blood vessels to swell to accommodate an increased volume of blood. This happens to the blood vessels under the eyes too. "Cortisol activates our 'flight or fight' response to make the body more alert when sleep deprived," explains Blakely. "It can also elevate oil production, leading to breakouts."
"Sleep induces the production of collagen, so over time a lack of sleep often leads to dark circles, fine lines and pallid complexions," says Dr Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist known as "The Sleep Doctor". "Plus, growth hormone peaks during deep sleep, and this plays a central role in initiating cellular repair."
The immune system takes a big hit when the body is deprived of regenerating sleep, and Breus says this is a common cause of rashes and other skin-related problems.
What's the most effective skincare ingredient for counteracting the signs of poor sleep on the face?
We recommend clients try a Hydrating and Bighting Eye Cream. Pebble Radiance Eye Cream with added natural fruit extracts of melon, cranberry and strawberry extract. This formula also contains avocado oil, which unlike many natural oils, penetrates deep into the skin. Natural Avocado Oil acts as a humectant retaining moisture resulting in prolonged hydrated skin. The natural extracts added provide anti-ageing properties. Strawberries are also a rich source of vitamin C fighting off free radicals reducing oxidative stress to the skin. Strawberries also contain folic acid, which is essential for cell regeneration creating brighter, fresher skin.
What tips can I give clients to improve their sleep?
"It's really important that we educate our clients during any skin treatment consultation and explain how poor sleeping patterns can affect the skin. If we can all understand the value of sleep, we will be motivated to make lifestyle adjustments," advises Blakely. "While the odd late night isn't going to cause too much damage, inconsistent sleeping patterns over time will have an impact on skin."
We are told that one of the simplest ways to improve sleep is to switch off all digital devices before bed, as many people don't consider just how disruptive notification noises and blue light from devices are to rest. "We must give some thought to establishing a regular bed time that allows enough sleep before their morning alarm," she adds.
Dr Breus devised a method for his patients to use during that last hour before bed to prepare for sleep as much as possible: "20 minutes of those small things that just need to get done before bed, followed by 20 minutes of bedtime hygiene (personal practices or habits that are necessary for a good night's sleep), and finally, 20 minutes of meditation, relaxation or massage."
Is there an ideal room temperature for comfortable sleep?
"The right temperature is the temperature at which you can fall asleep comfortably and stay asleep without waking or sweating," says Dr Breus. "For most people that's somewhere in the low to mid-60s Fahrenheit (15-20ºC)." In the warmer months, he advises trying fans, air-conditioning or opening windows at night.
Regular exercise aid healthy sleep, but now we are hearing it should be avoided before bed. Is this true?
It's widely agreed that practices such as gentle yoga, Pilates or other movement can help induce deep relaxation in both mind and body before bed. Blakely agrees that "relaxing activities can help mitigate the effects of stress and improve overall wellbeing", but we should be wary of exercising too close to bedtime if we struggle to feel sleepy at night.
"People with insomnia and other sleep disorders should schedule their exercise earlier in the day," advises Dr Breus. However, citing a survey from the US-based National Sleep Foundation, he adds: "People who exercise regularly experience better quality and more consistent sleep than those who do not, and are significantly less likely to feel sleepy during the day, or to experience symptoms of sleep disorders.
So 'normal' sleepers are free to exercise at any time of the day, provided that their exercise doesn't interfere with sleep.
Do you suffer from ongoing restless, disrupted sleep?
Simple breathing practices can be very effective in significantly calming the mind and inducing sleep. "A breathing practice can be as simple as taking a series of even, slow inhale and exhale breaths," explains Dr Breus. "By taking a deep inhale and holding your breath, you're increasing the body's oxygen level, allowing your body to work slightly less hard to function.
"A long, slow exhale has a meditative quality and is also very similar to the pace of breathing your body adopts as you're falling asleep, so by deep breathing when awake, you're mimicking the breathing patterns of sleep onset, and nudging your body and mind toward rest."
Blakely is fan of adaptogenic herbal supplements ashwaghanda and rhodiola, which are said to work on the hormones to help bring the body to optimum functionality.
"Ashwagandha can help reduce stress and anxiety, and rhodiola works hand in hand with as it helps alleviate mental fatigue, giving more energy during the day," she says.