When you think of skincare, you often think of products, maybe if you’re a holistic thinker, vitamins and nutrition…but not usually a commitment to more sleep. Well, a good night’s rest is important for healthy skin. In my experience, when treating acne, rosacea and (especially) premature aging, looking at sleep is essential.
Sleep and The Skin
Proper sleep is needed to healing and repair the heart and blood vessels. In fact, chronic sleep deficiency increases the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. While this is important for overall wellness, it also affects the skin, especially inflammatory skin conditions. I have seen that lack of sleep increases inflammation, aggravating rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and even acne. This also may because sleep also affect our blood glucose levels. Sleep deficiency leads to elevated blood sugar, which has been shown to imbalance hormones (usually estrogen elevation) as well as exacerbate inflammation further.
Beyond this, sleep is key in keeping our immune systems strong. This means that a good night’s rest plays a role in helping your fight foreign infections and protects against the damages of harmful substances. Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way in which your immune system responds, leading to more vulnerability to a variety of illnesses. This can decrease our defenses against skin infections as well as slows down healing. I personally have seen that cystic acne lesions heal much more slowly when the immune system is compromised.
Sleep and Hormones
Sleep also supports healthy hormones. This translates into healthy skin as a variety of hormonal imbalances are often present in acne. Often this means looking at our sex hormones – and while it may not be the only causative factor, it is important to address sleep when trying to rebalance and treat imbalances. But sleep also plays a role in the overall quality of our skin. Deep sleep triggers the body to release growth hormone that promotes cell reproduction and regeneration, keeping our tissues resilient and youthful.
How to know if you’re getting enough
Insomnia can take on the traits of:
– taking more than 30 minutes or more to fall asleep
– waking up from sleep (often multiple times)
– waking up too early
– waking unrefreshed
– getting six or fewer hours of sleep for three or more nights a week
– (if chronic insomnia) over a month
Symptoms can include:
1. Difficulty falling asleep at night
2. Awakening during the night
3. Awakening too early
4. Not feeling well rested after a night’s sleep
5. Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
6. Irritability, depression or anxiety
7. Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering
8. Increased errors or accidents
9. Tension headaches
10. Distress in the stomach and intestines (gastrointestinal tract)
11. Ongoing worries about sleep
If this sounds like you, one way to confirm what’s going on is by doing a sleep study
Getting Better Sleep
It might sound counterintuitive but research has found that limiting your available sleep time can help your insomnia. In sleep restriction therapy, you set a bedtime and wake-up time and sticks to those times closely. This is determined from an estimate of how long the patient has already been sleeping at night. For example, if you usually spend 8 hours in bed but sleeps only 6 hours over (due to tossing and turning or the like) your initial set sleep time is 6 hours. You cannot go to bed early, get up late or take naps. This forces a defined sleep window and the window is gradual made bigger and bigger until you are sleeping the entire time you are in bed. The goal is to eliminate daytime sleepiness and excess time spent in bed!
Getting deep rest also involves setting up the right environment and mindset for rest. This is called sleep hygiene. Here are some tips for cleaning up your sleep hygiene to tackle poor sleep and support your skin’s health!
1. Avoid napping during the day.
2. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime.
4. Stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems – if you’re having sleep problems look at any changes to your eating habits.
5. Get adequate exposure to natural light during the day. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
6. Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid stressful situations or mulling over things that prompt stress before bedtime
7. Associate your bed with sleep. This means creating a zen space! Avoid being in bed while you watch TV, do work or go on the internet in. You need to associate your bed and bedroom with rest.
8. Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. Your bed should be comfortable, the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.
9. Think of the Ayurvedic! Read my post on the day cycles throughout the day based on this eastern medicine modality.
Sometimes it helps to give yourself boost with herbs and natural supplements. Here are a few that have excellent research behind them:
Chamomile Tea – An ingredient in almost every sleepy-time tea, studies have identified chamomile’s calming effect (topically on the skin too!). One Japanese study found it was as effective as a benzodiazepine!
Melatonin – Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Studies show that melatonin not only helps you get more sleep but also improves the quality of sleep. This is particularly good for getting your sleep pattern back on track when travelling across time zones.
Valerian – This herbal root has been used as a sedative and anti-anxiety treatment for more than 2,000 years. A personal fav, I find a dose of valerian knocks me right out. I find it particularly useful when used for sleep during long haul flights
Kava Kava – Kava Kava is another anti-anxiety plant. It is excellent for stress-related insomnia. The American Academy of Family Physicians says that short-term use of kava is okay for patients with mild to moderate anxiety but not to be taken with the use of alcohol or if you take medicines that have the effect of being hard on the liver.
Passionflower – Passionflower isn’t so much a sleep aid herb as a relaxing one. I personally have used it for calming the mind and body. While it is gentle, I admit that the first time I took it, my body and muscles felt so relaxed and loose that it kinda freaked me out. But after I got over the surprise, I started to love it.