More than just beauty sleep: The impact of sleep on our hormones, skin and wellbeing.

Humans sleep for approximately one-third of their lifetime – if all goes to plan, anyway.* Lack of sleep is a prevalent feature of modern life. Whilst our sleep schedules are as personal as our skin, many of us have a ‘working relationship’ with sleep deprivation, having to ultimately plough through the daylight hours with what we can accumulate during the night.

Sleep is crucial for growth and the renewal of multiple physiological systems and yet we sleep less now than at any time in recent history. There has been a gradual decline over the past 50 years due to the culture of long work hours, shift work, commutes, global communications across multiple time zones. This has meant that the prevalence of sleep disorders in the general population has been reported as 5% to 19%*****

Many of us are aware of the effect that lack of sleep can have on our energy levels and mood but one area that sleep has a profound effect upon, yet you may not be aware of the importance of sleep patterns. ‘A consistent sleep pattern is crucial for overall health,’ says Dr Justine Jordan. ‘Interestingly a 2020 study demonstrated that people aged 45-84 with irregular sleep patterns were almost twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease for example hypertension, heart attacks and strokes, then those with more regular sleep patterns.* It has also been shown that a disruption to circadian rhythms regularly is associated with a great risk of mood disorders.** The importance of maintaining a regular sleep pattern is further reinforced by the fact that the American Heart Association has added sleep duration to their check list for assessing cardiovascular health.’

Sleep and our hormones

Another physiological area that sleep affects is our hormones. ‘A number of hormones and metabolic processes are affected by sleep quality and circadian rhythms. Those that are closely associated with sleep and circadian rhythmicity include growth hormones, melatonin (sleep hormone), cortisol (stress hormone), leptin (suppresses appetite) and ghrelin (promotes food intake). While endogenous circadian-regulating mechanisms play a significant role in glucose and lipid balance,’ continues Justine. ‘Research suggests that chronic sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and insulin. We have all lived this. Following even a few nights of poor sleep leads to poor food choices the next day and fatigue and thus we enter a vicious cycle. It has also been demonstrated that trying to “catch up” on sleep by lying in until 11am just doesn’t make up for or counteract the negative effects of poor sleep quality or patterns. ‘

The rhythm of the night

Your body has several internal clocks, called circadian clocks. These typically follow a 24-hour repeating rhythm, called the circadian rhythm. This rhythm affects every cell, tissue, and organ in your body and how they work. Your central circadian clock, located in your brain, tells you when it is time for sleep. Other circadian clocks are in organs throughout your body. Your body’s internal clocks are in sync with certain cues in the environment. Light, darkness, and other cues help determine when you feel awake and when you feel drowsy. Artificial light and caffeine can disrupt this process by giving your body false wakefulness cues (hence many people advising you to avoid coffee and your mobile phone close to bedtime).

Most people’s natural circadian cycle is a little greater than 24 hours. Some naturally wake up early, whilst others naturally stay up late. For example, it is natural for teens to prefer to go to bed late and to sleep in later in the morning than adults. The rhythm and timing of our body clocks also decline with age and additional factors, such as less physical activity can also affect circadian rhythms.

Circadian disruption and health risks

Sometimes people have problems with their sleep/wake cycle, meaning that their brain does not keep them awake or asleep at appropriate times. This can lead to a sleep disorder such as insomnia or narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that is characterised by a disruption to the sleep-awake processes. It can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and sleep paralysis. Cross-sectional studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between sleep deprivation and obesity risk, whilst sleep deprivation has also been found to be a risk factor for diabetes mellitus. Even a single night of total sleep deprivation can influence energy expenditure and metabolism, with further research finding that appetite for high carbohydrate food increased by 32% during sleep deprivation.

How lack of sleep impacts the skin

Our skin repairs any daily extrinsic and intrinsic damage at night through cell renewal and therefore a lack of sleep can have a significant effect on skin health, illustrated in the following:

  • Research has indicated that chronic poor sleep quality is associated with increased signs of intrinsic ageing, diminished skin barrier function and lower satisfaction with appearance.**
  • Research has revealed that skin hydration was significantly reduced after 1 day of sleep deprivation, and it continued to decrease. Skin gloss, desquamation, transparency, elasticity, and wrinkles were significantly aggravated after 1 day of sleep deprivation. Skin texture was significantly aggravated on the fourth day of sleep restriction. ***
  • New findings have revealed that elasticity decreases more than other skin characteristics with prolonged sleep restriction.**
  • Studies have also revealed that poor sleepers have significantly higher levels of TEWL.**
  • Sleep deprivation may also act as a proinflammatory driver, which may contribute to exacerbation and perpetuation of inflammatory skin conditions.*****
  • Sleep disorders are very common in patients with psoriasis with a prevalence of 62% to 69%******

What can we do to reduce the impact of a lack of sleep?

‘It is very easy to build up a significant sleep debt quite quickly over the course of a week,’ says Justine. ‘Taking short 10-20 min naps (but no longer) can help but ultimately, we need to avoid getting into a sleep debt in the first place. Tips include being consistent with sleep and wake times. This even includes weekends! Keep a sleep diary initially, take advantage of working from home with a 10-20 min daytime nap. Practice good sleep hygiene. The HSE have a nice “Good Sleep Guide” that summarises this – but be patient as it takes time.’


* Kim TW, Jeong JH, Hong SC. The impact of sleep and circadian disturbance on hormones and metabolism. Int J Endocrinol. 2015;2015:591729.

**Oyetakin-White P, Suggs A, Koo B, Matsui MS, Yarosh D, Cooper KD, Baron ED. Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing? Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015 Jan;40(1):17-22. doi: 10.1111/ced.12455. Epub 2014 Sep 30. PMID: 25266053.

***Jang SI, Lee M, Han J, Kim J, Kim AR, An JS, Park JO, Kim BJ, Kim E. A study of skin characteristics with long-term sleep restriction in Korean women in their 40s. Skin Res Technol. 2020 Mar;26(2):193-199. doi: 10.1111/srt.12797. Epub 2019 Nov 6. PMID: 31692145.

**** 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. Sleep, 36(9), 1355–1360.

***** Tamschick, R et al (2021) Insomnia and other sleep disorders in dermatology patients: A questionnaire-based study with 634 patient. Clinics in Dermatology

****** K Kaaz, JC Szepietowski, Ł. Matusiak, Influence of itch and pain on sleep quality in atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, Acta Derm Venereol, 99 (2019), pp. 175-180

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