Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/9/2021
You wake up every morning with dark circles under your eyes. It's 8 a.m., and while you went to bed before midnight, you feel like you've gotten fewer hours of sleep per night than you need.
Whether your circadian rhythm is off or changes in your job or home life are causing sleep deprivation, poor sleep is a major health concern for many people, especially if those effects become long-term issues.
But what does insomnia do to your face? Can fewer hours on the pillow cause your face to look less glowy?
We all know that we look worse after a night of poor sleep, but there are scientific reasons for these symptoms. It's not in your head: paler and dryer skin, eye circles and lower satisfaction with appearance are all resulting side effects of insufficient beauty sleep.
Lack of sleep may be a cause for medical concern, but for healthy skin, it's an absolute. Those deep sleep nights are the best way to keep your face healthy and glowy. And they're just part of a long list of health benefits of adequate sleep duration.
As you can probably tell, your skin (your largest organ) is going to be one of the many things in line for benefits from sleep, and like other organs, your skin sees direct benefits from adequate rest and sleep.
Getting enough sleep is important for proper cellular growth and function in your skin cells. People who get enough sleep see a whole range of benefits, from better blood flow and hormonal regulation, to faster regeneration of cells, and even some benefits to protein synthesis — which could include collagen and keratin.
Sleep also helps your skin produce protective cytokines, which guard your skin from damage from things like free radicals.
Cosmetically, sleep is also crucial in your skin’s health—adequate sleep, as you know, prevents puffiness and dark circles on your face, as well as eye bags and even wrinkling.
There’s also the relationship between acne and sleep to consider.
A 2019 study found a link between adult acne and poor sleep quality, and while the authors of the study admitted that the relationship between the two wasn’t completely understood, it doesn’t take a medical degree to understand that something like insomnia that makes the rest of your body vulnerable to illness might also make your skin vulnerable to bacterial outbreaks.
Wrinkles come in all shapes, sizes and depths, and they may have a variety of causes. But most of the factors associated with signs of aging can be put into the jar of “damage,” specifically to structures that make up your skin on a cellular level.
These can be pretty much anything, from too much sun or smoke, to dry air and poor diet—you can get wrinkles from the wrong sleeping position, or from not sleeping at all.
Chronically poor sleep isn’t just bad for your work and school performance, or for your well-being emotionally. It’s also a factor in aging and premature aging.
Studies show that chronic sleep deprivation is tied to diminished skin barrier function, lower satisfaction with your facial appearance and increased wrinkles.
What this means is that yes, if poor sleepers continue to let insomnia issues and diminished sleep persist, you could be looking at an older version of yourself in the mirror much sooner than you should have to.
You probably already understand that getting enough sleep is healthy, and getting insufficient sleep can be not-so-healthy. Anyone who’s had to get up early or wrestled with illness throughout the night knows that they don’t exactly feel their best and brightest the next day.
But sleep has a more immediate and specific benefit to your body than just “rest.”
Sleep is required, for instance, for optimal cognitive function, attention and mood. When you get enough sleep, you’re not at risk of impaired motor function or decision making, and some studies have found that you are more likely to recall positive situational memories than negative ones—which can have a profound impact on your mood.
Researchers are still studying the specific cellular effects of inadequate rest, but they do understand that sleep is crucial for the regulation of your metabolism, your hormones and of gene expression within cells.
Sleep can also help your body take care of itself and maintain proper function throughout other systems like the circulatory and immune systems. It’s a factor in your risk of diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, as well as loneliness, dementia, and many mood disorders.
In summary, sleep can make you happier, more productive, help you maintain your weight and metabolism, boost your immune system, and yes, it can have beneficial effects for your memory, generally.
Proper skin care is essential to preventing some signs of aging and acne. We’ve assembled more resources and guides for better skin health, so whether you’re suffering from acne, premature aging, or just want to look and feel better, you can find more information on our skin care blog.
But as much as creams and serums might be a fix for some signs of skin aging, what you really should address first is any inadequate sleep that is causing your brain and body stress.
Sleep loss can cause many more health problems than we’ve mentioned here, and things like elevated cortisol levels can be a precursor to stress, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders you don’t want to acquire.
The solution may take time, but it has one easy first step: getting help.
Whether you speak with a healthcare professional about physical causes of insomnia, or talk to a therapist or mental health professional about whatever is keeping you up, that conversation is going to make the rest of your treatment easier.
Experts are here to help you get the hours of sleep per night you need. Whether that comes in the form of treatment for diseases, disorders or just a new evening routine, you won’t have the right advice until you take the next step.
We promise: it’s nothing to lose sleep over.