The truth about beauty sleep

Sleep is good for our skin. Our grandmothers knew this by instinct and now cosmetic scientists are discovering precisely why a lack of sleep leaves us not only feeling rotten, but looking lousy too.

Thanks to our 24/7, hyper-connected lifestyles, we’re all sleeping less, and less well, and products that help alleviate the consequences are big news. Mintel has identified “the new night” as a trend to watch in facial skincare. “These products will increasingly work with the body’s circadian rhythms and natural melatonin levels, and new formats will be introduced,” says Vivienne Rudd, Mintel’s director of global innovation and insight, beauty and personal care.

A global study from TNS shows that our top beauty concern is tired-looking skin, which isn’t surprising given that one third of those surveyed got only five or six hours’ sleep a night. Even as recently as the 1960s, eight or nine hours a night was the norm.

How many hours sleep do you get

Why is sleep so important for skin? “Getting deep sleep is one of the best things you can do for your skin,” says dermatologist Dr Howard Murad. “This is when all of the systems of our body repair and regenerate themselves; the skin detoxifies itself overnight too. No matter how effective your skincare products are, not sleeping enough will counteract your efforts to get healthy skin.”

The poor-sleep-equals-bad-skin equation was confirmed by 2013 research at the US Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, which found that regular bad sleep accelerates the signs of skin ageing. Poor sleepers notched up more fine lines, uneven pigmentation, and had slacker and less elastic skin than the good sleepers. And that’s before you factor in the things they didn’t measure, bags under the eyes, for example.

The study, which was funded by Estée Lauder, informed the latest tweaks to the formula of the company’s famous Advanced Night Repair Serum Synchronized Recovery Complex II to help compensate for what a lack of sleep is doing to the skin. From a technical point of view, the new formulation focused on supporting catabolysis, the process by which skin cells clear out internal debris overnight (with algae extract and yeast extract), and a “clock gene” technology which helped the skin to maximise its renewal processes.

As the details of skin’s night-time function are uncovered, more options for appropriate skincare at night are opened up. It’s an area that Vichy Laboratoires has been researching in great detail.

“The skin has its own circadian rhythm,” says Janette Ryan, international training manager for Vichy. “Studying this ‘cutaneous chronobiology’ shows that cell division, when cells regenerate, is highest between midnight and 1am. There is an increase in blood flow within the skin between 12 midnight and 4am, which provides nutrients to the cells and removes toxins, and there’s an increase in skin exfoliation at this time too.”

These discoveries led to the creation of Idealia Skin Sleep that includes among its ingredients caffeine, which accelerates skin microcirculation, and moisturising hyaluronic acid, which stimulates cell regeneration, to help anyone missing out on sleep to minimise the damage.

Supporting the skin’s overnight detoxing mechanisms is a popular focus for night products. This Works No Wrinkles Midnight Moisture uses Persian silk tree extract to aid detoxification, as does Nuxe’s Nuxellence Detox serum, which claims it will make your face look as if it has had an extra two hours’ sleep.

Skin also needs a moisture boost at night, because the rate at which skin loses water increases overnight, and this is exacerbated by lack of sleep. Murad’s Hydro-Dynamic Ultimate Moisture promises eight-hour moisturisation to counteract this, while the Body Shop takes a novel approach with its Drops of Youth Bouncy Sleeping Mask, a gel-cream which forms itself into a mask that stays on overnight, so that the hyaluronic acid and edelweiss extract it contains can go to work.

When I cut back to less than five hours’ sleep a night for a week, damage levels simply leapt up as the skin’s cellular energy levels fell  

Sleeping masks are, as Mintel points out, a good example of the fascination with South Korean skincare. These are highly elastic gels, which you can use in a thin layer as a wash-off mask, a thicker layer for a night cream, or an even thicker layer for a night mask to be washed off in the morning. &OtherStories has a similar product called the Natte Anti-Stress Sleeping Mask.

And then there’s the issue of pigmentation, which Estée Lauder scientists have found is exacerbated at night when the day’s accumulated damage, rather than being swept away, is compounded into excess pigmentation. The company’s Enlighten range contains new tone-correcting ingredients that have been proven to counteract this.

The mitochondrial DNA within your skin, which helps provide energy to each skin cell, is swiftly harmed by lack of sleep. I know this because I was the subject of a year-long research project last year which examined my skin’s mitochondrial DNA to see how different lifestyle behaviours affected it. The research was conducted by Dr Jenny Latimer at the University of Newcastle and when I cut back to less than five hours’ sleep a night for a week, damage levels simply leapt up as the skin’s cellular energy levels fell.

Can skincare help here, too? Olay’s reformulated Regenerist range is proven to boost cellular bioenergy thanks to the enhanced amounts of niacinamide (vitamin B3) that its special “cell energising technology” contains. At the pricier end of the scale, under-the-radar favourite night-cream Cult51 has been shown in clinical trials to increase levels of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which cells need to generate energy, by 65 per cent and, together with its bevy of other skin-boosting ingredients, to reduce wrinkle depth by 52 per cent in 28 days.

To improve your beauty sleep further, you could slip on a Proskins Gold Eye Mask in which the lining is impregnated with gold that has been clinically proven to boost skin’s own production of hyaluronic acid. Or you could recline on an Illuminage pillow case that has copper ions woven into its fabric which have been shown to actively reduce skin-wrinkling. In addition, you could spritz that pillow case with This Works Sleep Plus Pillow Spray which, in a glorious verification of everything your granny would have said, contains a special lavender spray clinically proven to get people off to sleep quicker and help them sleep more deeply. Sweet dreams.