It's a universal truth: When you're in your 20s, you can stay out all night and look fresh the next morning. Unfortunately, as we age, lack of sleep affects us more deeply and shows more prominently on our faces -- lackluster complexions, dark circles, fine lines and, in more extreme cases, rashes and eczema.
Progressive loss of cellular water may be one reason sleepless nights affect our skin more visibly as we age, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad. Water retention is key to keeping skin moisturized and supple, which can translate to fewer lines and a smoother complexion.
Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer agrees. "During hours of sleep, cortisol and insulin production inversely peak so that collagen 1 production is accelerated," he says. Collagen 1 production firms the epidermal/dermal junction so evaporation is reduced and water retention is maximized, he adds.
Conversely, lack of restful sleep suppresses the immune system, which can lead to skin-related problems, such as rashes. "The most important thing you can do for your skin may be getting a great night's sleep," Murad says. The ideal amount ranges from six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, time enough to move through the five phases of sleep.
As the body settles into the fourth and deepest stage of rest -- often called Delta Sleep (which precedes REM, the last stage of sleep) -- growth hormones peak and initiate cell and tissue repair. Limited or restless sleep can cut into this crucial restorative process. "Intermittent waking sleep is nowhere near as beneficial to skin health," Lancer says.
Increasingly, experts are looking at beauty holistically: When skin benefits from enough sleep, products and treatments work more effectively to provide better results. "You cannot treat the skin as an isolated organ, you treat the whole person," Murad says. He uses this analogy: Imagine your window frame needs to be replaced. You can just replace the frame or you can find out what damaged it in the first place, say termites or bad plumbing. Similarly, when the skin looks gray and sallow and you have dark circles around your eyes, you can use cold compresses and makeup as a temporary fix or address the underlying issues, such as sleep deprivation.
In a SpaFinder consumer study, 80% of respondents said they had difficulty sleeping "frequently" or "sometimes." Those with mild sleep issues can now visit spas that offer sleep therapy treatments alongside facials and massages. "Today there are many sleep health programs at getaway spas, and we are now seeing day spas incorporating the benefits of sleep as well," says SpaFinder President Susie Ellis. Destination spas such as Red Mountain Spa in Utah and Canyon Ranch in Arizona offer sleep skills workshops and insomnia relief programs. Some smaller day spas offer an injection of relaxation during a busy schedule: Yelo in Manhattan features the YeloNap, where, for $15 to $28, clients sleep for 20 to 40 minutes on a zero-gravity chair in a private cabin; LED lights simulate a sunrise for a gentle wake-up call.
However, achieving uninterrupted sleep and maximizing the beauty potential of our sleep are two separate notions. According to experts, several tricks can help you look your best in the morning. Avoid eating heavy or salty meals that are hard to digest before bedtime, and remember that hydrating your skin from the inside is just as important as using a topical moisturizer. Murad also recommends oral supplements such as Omega-3 to help maintain a healthy hydration level. Instead of over-the-counter sleeping pills, oral supplements can help relax muscles and relieve tension while attempting to improve skin holistically. Murad's Sleep Reform Dietary Supplement ($49.50; www.murad.com) attempts to tackle both beauty and sleep in one pill. It incorporates muscle relaxant GABA to ease tension, melatonin to promote deep sleep, antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 and B vitamins to boost collagen production.
Last, don't indulge in another youthful bad habit -- falling asleep in your makeup. Pay attention to your nighttime skin-care routine, even if you're tired, because night creams and serums help rejuvenate skin overnight. "Nighttime applications of high-grade skin products perform better," Lancer says.
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Help with skin flaws
Looking fresh and flawless in the morning may no longer be just a dream. Today, targeted products help diminish imperfections and combat the effects of restless sleep. Perhaps we can bottle up beauty sleep after all.
Problem: Uneven, blotchy skin
Solution: Ramy Sleep in Beauty ($48; www.ramy.com) delivers foundation you can sleep in. Not only do you wake up with an even complexion, but peptides reduce redness and anti-aging ingredient Matrixyl diminishes fine lines.
Problem: A new blemish
Solution: Sonya Dakar Acne Zero Overnight ($45; www.sonyadakar skinclinic.com) zaps zits while also preventing new ones. The time-release nanotechnology protects skin from redness and dryness, a common side effect of blemish creams.
Problem: Expression lines
Solution: Stick Frownies ($19.95; www.frownies.com) on your forehead, crow's-feet or frown lines to target deep expression lines. The patches are designed to "re-educate" facial muscles to relax.
Problem: Dark circles
Solution: Earth Therapeutics Hydrogel Under-Eye Recovery Patch ($7.99; www.earththerapeutics.com) incorporates plant extracts such as green tea to reduce dark circles.
Problem: Dull skin
Solution: Creams such as Shu Uemura White Recovery EX ($55; www.shu uemura.com) and Clarins Bright Plus ($65; www.clarins.com) incorporate ingredients such as vitamin C and prune extract to brighten complexions overnight.
-- Alexandra Drosu