The importance of sleep for your skin: understanding Alpha Waves
To understand Alpha Waves and the pre-sleep state, we consulted with Roy Raymann, PhD and Chief Scientific Officer at SleepScore Labs™. As a leading researcher in the field of sleep science, Dr. Raymann spent more than a decade in academia studying sleep at the Netherlands Institute for Neurosciences.
Every night we put our head on the pillow, we’re ready for a great night of sleep. Many of us consider sleep as simply some necessary downtime where not much happens. But, since we all know our bodies cannot cope without sleep, it’s clear that sleep is truly a vital function. While you are asleep, your body and brain are hard at work recovering and rejuvenating from the day before and getting ready for the next day.
The Process of Sleep
Did you know that getting ready for bed starts a few hours before you actually go to sleep? The setting of the sun and the absence of daylight triggers your biological clock in your brain to tell the rest of the body that night has come and sleeping time is nearing. Triggered by the biological clock, the pineal gland will automatically start releasing the hormone melatonin in your bloodstream every evening. This hormone will send a signal to all the organs in the body that nighttime has come. Its presence starts a cascade of bodily changes that help you fall asleep more easily when ready for bed. Melatonin also widens your blood vessels, directing more blood to the skin. This is why your skin starts feeling comfortably warm during the evening.
As soon as you hit your pillow and close your eyes, your brain begins switching gears. Once you get comfortable in bed, in a silent and dark environment, you’re ready to wind-down, relax and doze off. This relaxation is hallmarked by a brain activity called Alpha Waves. These Alpha Waves are also abundant during meditation and mindfulness and can be seen as a signal that you are awake and calm, and not instead busy with the demands of life. When in bed and trying to fall asleep, the Alpha Waves underline that you are on your way to dozing off. At the moment you fall asleep, most of the Alpha Waves will disappear. The start of each night of sleep is typically hallmarked by the vanishing of Alpha Waves.
Once asleep, the body starts processing the events, learnings, and emotions from the past day, while also repairing and renewing cells. And it will keep doing this in cycles throughout the entire night. If you cut your sleep short or your sleep gets disrupted many times, your necessary maintenance time will be shortened. In the short term, this leads to a lack of energy the next day, baggy eyes, and being more moody, amongst other noticeable effects. In the longer run, when a lack of sleep becomes more chronic, you might start experiencing more severe complaints. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to increased risk for serious conditions like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart failure. In short: Cutting short on sleep puts your health at risk.
Repairing your Skin Overnight
The skin is the largest organ of your body, and it plays an important role. It acts as a barrier to the outside world and defends our body from harmful threats like sun radiation, and bacterial or viral infections. During sleep, damaged skin gets repaired. It has been shown that the repair of skin cells with DNA damage from sun exposure peaks a night. During sleep, as you lay in your warm comfortable bed, the blood flow to and from the skin increases dramatically, which then allows for skin regeneration. This increased blood flow allows for an uptick in transportation of essential nutrients to the skin, along with removal of waste products from the skin. Growth hormone is also spiking during sleep and plays a role in healing and repairing the skin by stimulating collagen production.
As mentioned earlier, melatonin does play a role in the change of the blood circulation in the evening and night, but it can also reduce inflammations and even act as an antioxidant, neutralizing some of the damage done to the skin due to UV exposure and pollution. Given these properties of melatonin, it has been proposed as an ingredient to reverse the effects of skin aging, but the research results have been mixed so far.
The more time you spend asleep, the more time you offer your skin to rejuvenate. Surprisingly, the relationship between sleep and skin health has not been studied in-depth to date. One study amongst 60 women did show that women who reported sleeping less than 5 hours per night had increased signs of skin aging. But, studies are sparse in this area, so more research is needed to fully understand skin and sleep parallels.
Slightly more is known on how sleep deprivation affects one’s facial appearance. If you’ve ever looked at yourself in the mirror after a night of minimal sleep, you’ll recognize the signs. Studies show that sleep deprived people appear less healthy, less attractive, and more tired. Facial features related to lack of sleep show visibly hanging eyelids, swollen and red eyes, darker circles under the eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles and fine lines, and droopy corners of the mouth.
These studies highlight what happens if our skin misses out on the restorative processes that occur during sleep. Sleep loss can lead to insufficient skin repair and even skin damage over time.
Hydration and your Skin
During the night, the skin loses more water due to its increased permeability. Because of this, it’s advised to keep the skin hydrated overnight, making sure you stay hydrated during the day and applying moisturizer before bedtime. Experts agree that nighttime is likely the best time frame to apply skin products. The increased permeability of skin at night offers a great way to maximize the benefits from skincare products. Meanwhile, skin damaging variables like UV light are absent at night, and skin blood flow is strongly increased at this time too, all resulting in more opportunities to pamper your skin in the evening.
The Bottom Line? Prioritize those Zzzs
Sleep is not only vital to your health and wellbeing, but also to your skin health. But for many of us, hitting the pillow does not equal sleep. With our busy lifestyles and FOMO mentality, sleep seems more an afterthought than a priority to most of us.
If you want to make sleep a new priority, start with scheduling your bedtime, just like how you set an alarm for your wake time. Aim to go to bed at the same time every night (yes, even on the weekend), and try to get at least 7 hours of sleep every single night. To get your 7 hours of sleep, you need to schedule around 8 hours of time in bed, since not all time in bed is spent asleep.
It’s also important to make sure you carve out at least one hour before bedtime to wind-down. In that hour, you should relax and avoid any stress, physical activity or mental effort. Read a book, listen to your favorite music, meditate, watch an episode of your favorite sitcom, and put away your e-mail and social media. As a next step, build a consistent pre-sleep routine and try to stick to it every single night. It can be as easy as turning off the lights, checking if all doors are locked, going to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, washing your face and applying your skin care products. For best results, enjoy your routine in same order every night.
And of course, enjoy that beauty sleep!
SleepScore Labs™ is the only end-to-end applied sleep science company incorporating measurement, data and actionable insights.