Beauty Sleep: How the Lack of it Affects Your Skincare Routine

Ep 63: The Science of Beauty Sleep

An urban lifestyle replete with its glorification of dazzling city lights and late nights has influenced many to take sleep for granted. While the effects of sleep deprivation on our health and immune system are well established, emerging research now suggests that sleep deprivation can have a direct impact on how attractive you look. This has to do with sleep deprivation accelerating the aging process and also how it affects facial cues of fatigue. Sleep-deprived individuals are found to exhibit facial expressions which cue others to perceive them as fatigued, less healthy and overall as less attractive. This episode expounds on the concept of cellular senescence, which is a key inflammation pathway in the skin exposome concept and offers a scientific explanation behind accelerated aging associated with the lack of “beauty sleep”.

Beauty sleep

Hey guys, this is Dr. Teo Wan Lin of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Center. Welcome to today’s podcast episode of Dermatologist Talks: Science of Beauty. In the last episode, we spoke about the relevance of natural light in terms of how it stimulates our circadian rhythm. Also, how coincidentally we also look our best in natural lighting. Today, we’re going to focus on the other aspect of the circadian rhythm. This is the phenomenon of darkness and its association with its need for rest.

The human reaction to lighting is very well established. It is also relevant for us in today’s podcast. This is as we are investigating the impact of lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation. In particular, we want to zoom in on two studies performed by sleep laboratories in Sweden. This correlated to assessments in attractiveness and beauty with sleep deprivation states. We all can identify with sleep deprivation at some stage in our lives. Did you know that sleep-deprived individuals are perceived according to these studies as less healthy, less attractive, and more tired than those who had a normal night’s rest? 

Effects of sleep deprivation on aging

In the first study¹, the investigators recruit 23 healthy adults (but with sleep deprivation) from the ages of 18 to 31, who had their photographs taken. They also included 65 untrained observers who rated these photographs. The design of the study was in such a way that participants underwent photography after a normal night’s sleep of eight hours. Separately, the investigators then induce a sleep-deprivation state in the following way. Subjects had a night of less beauty sleep, which continue with 31 hours of wakefulness before undergoing photography. These photos were then randomized and rated by untrained, layperson observers. The results were very interesting but I wouldn’t say that they were surprising.  It is fascinating that laypersons were readily able to pick up lack of sleep in these photographs. It also correlates with a decreased attractiveness score. 

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This is very significant because to date, medical science has been focusing on aging as a process. A process that seems to be irreversible with regards to the chronology of one’s age. However, clearly in this study¹, what we rate participants on was actually a level of attractiveness and a health state that directly correlates to the number of hours of rest they had the night before. Hence, there is clearly a morphological effect on the faces of individuals who suffer from sleep deprivation vs when they have good rest. In terms of our established theories of cell aging, this presents an important point of discussion.

Beauty Sleep Your Skin Younger

What the results show is that there are fluctuations within a similar time frame in the fairly objective assessment of an individual’s overall appearance, purely as a result of lack of beauty sleep. There is more to this than meets the eye, as the obvious concept here to understand is cellular senescence. Aging itself is due to the degeneration of your skin cells with chronological age. Essentially this means that if you are going older, then your cells gradually fall asleep. They are then less able to carry out DNA repair on a daily basis. 

When one suffers from sleep deprivation, there is an almost immediate effect in terms of cellular senescence. This alters the appearance of the individuals. This is very surprising because we generally do not believe that there is significant skin aging that occurs, such as in this case, within a matter of days and to a level that is perceptible to the naked eye. Certainly, it should not be a reversible state. So, therein is the point here. Which is whatever is going on, it was clearly detectable with the human eye and without a microscopic analysis.  More studies should be borne for a more accurate assessment of what’s exactly going on in the skin. 

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How sleep deprivation shows on your face

There are clear signs here, which we can possibly hypothesize is related to facial expressions. For example, the appearance of the eyes and the skin around the eyes could be an important marker of fatigue. We readily understand that increased dark circles and fine lines around the eyes are overall related to eye fatigue due to congestion of the tissues around the area. The other consideration could be related to facial expressions. Facial expressions link to fatigue. In the case of the second study², it associates with the impression that the subject was sad. 

Eye fatigue critically affects visual analog scores of attractiveness in these studies of sleep deprived individuals.

The takeaway was that eye fatigue overall paints a picture to the human eye as a less attractive and less healthy state. All these were consequences of the perception of these sleep-deprived individuals. Therefore, we can consider sleep-related facial cues as potential implications for social, clinical assessments and behavioral studies. In the second study², it was very interesting that the observers involved characterized the appearance of the sleep-deprived individuals in detail.

The Truth of Beauty Sleep – Lack of Sleep & Facial Cues of Fatigue

Having tired-looking eyes, swollen eyes, dark circles, increased fine lines and wrinkles, as well as facial expressions, even the corners of your mouth drooping. These were all facial cues and assessed according to visual analogue scales. The ratings of fatigue were correlated to a glazed appearance of the eyes and other facial cues affected by sleep deprivation. We consider these to be mathematically statistically significant.  

In this case, we have brought up two studies that are experimental in nature. However, these studies are readily understandable as it is easy for the individual to identify. This is in terms of our own personal experience with lack of sleep, or observations of individuals who suffer from sleep deprivation. The effects of lack of beauty sleep are clear in terms of its negative impact on your overall health and immune system. However, the fact that this study¹ managed to articulate the relationship between sleep deprivation with physical appearance and attractiveness, is groundbreaking.

If you put this in the context of our positive aging endeavors, it is highly relevant. We are doing a lot in terms of our skincare, cosmetic treatments. Advocates of a healthy lifestyle would feel vindicated by such findings. It might have been easy to dismiss the impact of this as purely psychological. However, at the end of the day, we are in pursuit of looking better. Feeling better after a good night’s rest is an intuitive intervention to feeling better. When you feel better, you also tend to show it in our faces. 

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For me, the highlight was the finding that facial expressions of sadness such as what was described as the corners of one’s mouth drooping, were actually observed by the participants as a sign of lack of sleep associated with sadness. This was considered unattractive and was consistently found with all the sleep-deprived individuals.  I think the most fundamental thing we can do to make ourselves feel more attractive and beautiful is to focus on our health. Because of the design of biological life, we are made to wake up early in the morning and go to bed when the sun goes down. Any disruption of this circadian rhythm upsets our natural hormone cycles designed to keep us in a healthy sleep-wake cycle

When our bodily organs are functioning well as well as our mood, we naturally will look and feel our best. This becomes a positive cycle as we increasingly understand the relationship between the brain and the skin. This is the brain skin connection that we have seen primarily from studies that explore the impact of stress on the immune system of the skin. Stress triggers up flare ups of many if not all skin conditions. This has far reaching consequences in terms of our selection of skincare.

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Skincare, especially when applying it before one goes to bed, assists in the skin cell rejuvenation process. Hence, the logic behind repairing night creams and the focus of cellular energy. Many research studies conducted by cosmetic giants in the last decade have focused on this. It is extremely pertinent to note that when you are sleeping, something else may be going on in your skin. This impacts the appearance the very next day. Furthermore, it could be an opportunity for these stem cell energizing active ingredients to work and intervene in these biological practices. 

Beauty sleep stops inflammaging

I think specific histological studies are going to be helpful in approving and disapproving this theory. But this all already fits in with our current understanding of inflammaging as the key pathway to the aging process, and how it is actually extremely important to incorporate antioxidant skincare. Furthermore, antioxidants in your diet are important in order to counteract the negative impact of inflammaging. According to the skin exposome concept of aging, inflammaging is critically responsible for the morphological expression of photoaging such as fine lines, wrinkles, irregular skin texture, dark spots. 

Prevent the effects of lack of sleep and develop a healthy sleep routine
How to maintain a good sleep routine

We’ve spoken a lot about the impact of sleep deprivation and lack of sleep today. The key here is what is my best advice to an individual who has to work a certain number of hours in the nighttime or has difficulty changing their work schedule along the way that directly fits into this ideal circadian rhythm. For me, I was working as a junior resident before I went into dermatology residency. I suffered from sleep deprivation because of the nature of our work. We were required to work overnight shifts, which definitely disrupted my sleep-wake cycle.

What I would advocate is essentially stimulating some form of light and darkness cycle. Whether it be in the form of you’re ensuring that your room is completely dark when you’re sleeping. This would entail turning off any light-emitting sources and devices. Also, being able to sleep consecutively for several hours is more important than having disjointed sleep. 

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Dermatologist Tips

Overall, I feel that it is important for us to keep to a schedule. Physically, mentally and emotionally, human beings have a design to work according to a certain system that runs like clockwork. This is the basis of our hormones being secreted at the right times of the day. So that we are energized to wake up, and feel tired at the end of the day. The more we are able to work in tandem with this natural cycle, the more we prioritize that over activities that may seem enjoyable, but may end up causing us to suffer sleep deprivation, then we will reap the benefits much sooner. The best part is, this type of beauty treatment is completely free, so I highly recommend all of you try this out in the next month.    

Summing up

We often overlook the importance of our bedtime routine- from a night skincare routine to how much sleep we’re getting, as well as the quality of sleep to our skin. Today we go in-depth into the science behind beauty sleep for a healthier, more youthful complexion, as well as the ideal dermatologist-recommended night skincare routine to help your skin rest and repair through the night.

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1. Axelsson J, Sundelin T, Ingre M, Van Someren EJ, Olsson A, Lekander M. Beauty sleep: experimental study on the perceived health and attractiveness of sleep deprived people. BMJ. 2010;341:c6614. Published 2010 Dec 14. doi:10.1136/bmj.c6614

2. Sundelin, T., Lekander, M., Kecklund, G., Van Someren, E. J., Olsson, A., & Axelsson, J. (2013). Cues of fatigue: effects of sleep deprivation on facial appearance. Sleep36(9), 1355–1360.