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The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Skin (Research Summary)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jan 22, 2022

The classic example of sleep having an effect on skin are the bags under the eyes that people who rarely get a full night's sleep often get.

It’s reasonable to expect that being sleep deprived can lead to other skin issues.

While there isn’t a ton of research on this topic, there is some. I’ve summarized it for you in this short post.

The Effects of Poor Sleep Quality on Skin Aging

One study of 60 healthy Caucasian women that were categorized as good or poor sleepers (i.e. they had a Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) over or less than 5).

Their skin aging was monitored using the SCINEXATM tool, which is a noninvasive comprehensive tool for measuring skin aging, along with photos (1).

They found quite a big variation among individuals, but overall there was a significant effect showing that women who were sleep deprived had higher levels of skin aging.

So that doesn’t mean that all people who are sleep deprived will suddenly have accelerated skin aging, but it is more likely. It also indicates there are likely other important factors (i.e. diet, hydration, etc.).

There was one other finding:

At 72 h after tape stripping (a test), good sleepers had 30% greater barrier recovery compared with poor sleepers. At 24 h after exposure to ultraviolet light, good sleepers had significantly better recovery from erythema. Good sleepers also reported a significantly better perception of their appearance and physical attractiveness compared with poor sleepers.

In short, when skin is exposed to stress of some kind, it’s often damaged and takes time to recover. If this damage builds up, it could lead to long-term consequences like signs of aging.

SummarySleep deprivation over the long term hinders skin recovery to stress and can lead to accelerated skin aging. In addition, it affects physical appearance, which may also have effects on psychological stress levels.

The Effect of Sleep Deprivation on Facial Appearance

Another study used observers to rate various aspects of skin health on pictures, without revealing how sleep deprived the person in the picture was (2).

They found that:

The faces of sleep deprived individuals were perceived as having more hanging eyelids, redder eyes, more swollen eyes, darker circles under the eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles/fine lines, and more droopy corners of the mouth

It’s important to note that these are subjective measures and that there was still quite a bit of variability:

However, there were statistically significant trends for most of the features measured.

One interesting point brought up by the researchers is that having poorer skin health can lead to impaired non-verbal communication, which is important in most aspects of everyday life.

SummarySleep deprivation increases the likelihood of many facial features that are deemed unattractive by most like wrinkles, swollen eyes, and hanging eyelids.

How Sleep Deprivation Affects Skin Barrier Function

There’s one more study that compared the effects of sleep deprivation to other types of stress, which is useful for putting results in context (3).

Subjects were put into one of three stressor groups:

  • Mock job interview
  • Sleep deprivation (42 hour)
  • Exercise (1 hour on treadmill at 50% of maximum heart rate)

TEWL (skin water loss, which is considered bad) was elevated in both the mock interview and sleep deprivation group.

In addition:

Sleep deprivation also decreased skin barrier function recovery and increased plasma interleukin-1β, tumor necrosis factor-α, and natural killer cell activity.

Interleukin is a type of white blood, so increased activity would indicate more inflammation that is being responded to.

Not surprisingly, the exercise group suffered no significant damage to their skin, showing that some types of stress can actually be good.

Summary: Skin Damage Caused By Sleep Deprivation

While I would like to see more research in this area, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that skin is affected by sleep deprivation.

The duration of sleep deprivation and intensity will likely affect results as well.

The research we looked at suggests that a lack of sleep can lead to:

  • Accelerated skin aging
  • More negative skin features like wrinkles and bags under eyes
  • Slower recovery of skin to various stresses

Sleep deprivation can also lead to increased anxiety, along with other symptoms like nausea or unintended weight loss.

References

  1. Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing?
  2. Cues of Fatigue: Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Facial Appearance
  3. Stress-Induced Changes in Skin Barrier Function in Healthy Women

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.