With one third of Britons now averaging just five hours sleep each night, it’s no wonder that sleep is always on our mind these days. From exhausted mums comparing bedtime battle stories, to those whose minds race when they hit the pillow, good sleep is the one gift that everyone wants. It’s well known that poor sleep has numerous negative effects on the body. These can include headaches, drowsiness, lowered immunity and irritability, and a lack of good quality sleep can also speed up the ageing process.
“The body goes through five distinct sleep stages, from light to deep sleep, and then finally dream sleep,” explains insomnia specialist, Kathryn Pinkham from the Insomnia Clinic. “A combination of all of these stages in sequence, repeated several times during the night, is required for a good night’s sleep. The ageing process can accelerate when this sequence is interrupted, especially during the later stages when the body is healing itself,” she adds.
The dream sleep stage is when all the beauty magic happens – during this stage, the body has a surge of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH helps rebuild and repair body tissue, as well as increase cell production. This cellular regeneration cycle takes on average 28 days, peaking each night at 2am, and is said to be the key to glowing skin.
Old cells tend to be rough and dehydrated, causing the skin to look crinkly, but these new cells will always look more radiant, smooth and plump – something that many of us search for in our beauty shopping trips. A poor night’s sleep also causes the body to produce higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), which can affect your skin. Studies suggest that high levels of cortisol cause inflammation in the body and decrease the production of collagen, which is what makes young skin bouncy and plump.
“Collagen is a protein that makes up approximately 75 to 80 percent of the dermis [the inner layer of the two main layers of cells that make up our skin],” says Dr Prerna Mittall of the InspireMe clinic. “Our skin looks younger when collagen is sufficiently topped up.” When collagen breaks down, skin starts to sag and lose its suppleness. This occurs gradually as skin ages, so it can’t be completely avoided, but there are a few things that will speed up this process – frequent poor sleep quality is one of them.
So, how can we improve the quality of our sleep? If you have no trouble falling asleep then simple solutions, such as setting a bedtime and switching off from screens an hour before bed, can make a huge difference. But if you can’t drift off ? Kathryn advises a structured routine to help boost our ‘sleep drive’ – our appetite for sleep – because when it comes to sleep, it’s quality over quantity.
Rather than aiming for the eight-hour gold standard, and spending half of that time tossing and turning, Kathryn suggests that it’s all about balancing our sleep drive and our ‘sleep window’. “Use a diary to keep track of how much good quality sleep you are actually getting. This number is your sleep window,” she explains. “For example, if you can get six hours of unbroken sleep, then your sleep window should be around six hours – 12am-6am, for instance. This means that from 6am-midnight the following day, you are awake and building a strong, healthy sleep drive. Stick with this routine seven days a week.” By creating a solid routine, your body will learn when to be asleep and when to be awake, which will then help you to settle into snoozemode more quickly and easily.
Sometimes, however, getting more quality sleep simply isn’t possible. Whether it’s nighttime breastfeeding, working a night shift or a big night out that’s cutting into your beauty sleep, thankfully the right skincare techniques can help to maintain a healthy glow whatever life throws your way.
Read on for beauty expert Melissa’s top recommendations…
How to look after your skin when you can’t sleep
Melissa’s top tips for glowing skin when sleep is scarce.
Dead surface cells make skin look rough and dry, so exfoliate a few times a week to reveal the new ones underneath. Products using simple ingredients, like raw honey (contains natural glycolic) or mildly granular clays, rice flours or coconut milk powders will slough away dead skin cells without over-drying the skin, and are gentle enough to use frequently.
The jury is still out on exactly how effective collagen supplements are. “They may help improve skin health, but not because the collagen is delivered intact to the skin – it will be broken down into amino acids by the process of digestion,” says Sandra. She recommends eating a complete food, like homemade bone broth, as a reliable source.
Lock in moisture
Once you’ve hydrated, it’s important to keep your skin that way. A night cream that contains beeswax will help lock-in moisture; also look for skincare ingredients that are naturally high in essential fatty acids and vitamin C, such as hemp oil or Sea Buckthorn. Sandra suggests eating plenty of Vitamin C-rich foods too. “Vitamin C supports collagen formation, as well as functioning as an antioxidant to protect the skin, so include veggies like broccoli, red peppers and spinach in your diet daily,” she advises.
We lose half a litre of water each day, without taking exercise into consideration. Nutritionist Sandra Greenbank suggests drinking plenty of healthy fluids, like herbal teas and water, to keep skin cells plump and glowing. Dr Prerna recommends including fruits with a highwater content in your diet, such as melon or grapes.
Looking for more tips to improve your sleep? Learn how sleep hormones affect your body, what to eat to improve your sleep according to the experts, or find out if alcohol is making you sleep deprived. If you want mindful tips to help you sleep, try our best sleep breathing exercises to help you relax at bedtime or yoga before bed. You may also find it useful to block out light when you sleep – check out our pick of the best sleep masks to find the right one for you.
About Melissa Kimbell
Melissa is a wellbeing writer and the founder of indie beauty brand, Awake Organics. She is passionate about eco-ethical beauty, and inspiring people to live their healthiest life (@awakeorganics).
This article was first published in In The Moment Magazine issue 18. Featured image by Pexels/Kebut Subiyanto.