Inspired living

How sleep improves your skin

Woman sleeping

Credit: iStock

How can you improve your health and Beauty, creativity, confidence, clarity, decision-making skills, happiness and good health without spending lots of money and in the comfort of your own home? By getting good-quality sleep. According to Dr Stuart Quan and Dr Russell Sanna from Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine in the US, “Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus and our ability to access higher-level cognitive functions: the combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance.”

Going to bed and waking at a regular time helps train your body clock to get into a rhythm that makes it easy.

Research reveals that a spike in stress levels can wreak havoc on both the skin and waistline, and a study at Duke University in the US found that poor sleep is associated with higher stress levels and a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes.

To improve your quality of sleep you need to reassess your sleep hygiene: rituals around sleep time. Interestingly, sleep is not something humans can easily switch on; it’s something we learn to do well. Often adults need to re-teach themselves how to settle and get the most out of their slumber. Going to bed and waking at a regular time helps train your body clock to get into a rhythm that makes it easy.

Getting 7–9 hours of good-quality sleep is the general recommendation. Artificial light, including blue wavelengths emitted by computer screens, is probably the most effective suppressant of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep and wake cycles. Avoiding computer screens a few hours before bedtime is very helpful for sleeping more successfully. Avoiding stimulants such as tea and coffee will also improve your sleep, as will exercising during the day.

What we consume can also help to get a good snooze. Chamomile tea will help you sleep, according to researchers; drinking chamomile is associated with an increase in glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative. Passionflower tea contains high levels of chemicals that act on your nervous system to make you tired. Tryptophan, abundant in cashew nuts, chickpeas, turkey and walnuts, is a sleep-boosting amino acid that helps make serotonin and melatonin. Magnesium-rich foods, including green leafy vegies, nuts and seeds, brown rice, fish, beans and lentils, avocadoes and cocoa, may also help you stay asleep. Research shows that, when the body’s magnesium levels are too low, it’s harder to stay asleep.

Research shows that selenium-rich foods such as Brazil nuts may also help reduce wakefulness at night.

Calcium in dairy and green leafy vegies such as kale and spinach helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy to manufacture sleep-triggering melatonin. Sunflower seeds, walnuts, tuna, halibut, salmon, turkey and chicken are all high in vitamin B6, which your body needs to make serotonin and melatonin. Other useful foods for boosting melatonin are pineapples, bananas, oranges and oats. Recent research heralds tart cherries as the optimum food for helping you sleep. Not only do they boost melatonin but the proanthocyanidins in cherries help inhibit an enzyme that degrades tryptophan. Research shows that selenium-rich foods such as Brazil nuts may also help reduce wakefulness at night.

So how can improved sleep be one of your best skin and body treatments?

1. Getting your eight hours can help you look younger. While you sleep, your body releases the anti-ageing hormone melatonin and human growth hormone, which increases the activity of the main antioxidant enzymes that protect cells — and skin — against free-radical damage.

2. Good sleep can boost your sense of wellbeing. A good night’s sleep helps your brain to form new pathways, which allows you to learn and remember information, enhances your problem-solving skills and kick-starts creativity. Not enough sleep, however, can lead to psychological stress, which can trigger the release of neuropeptides that can affect your complexion by increasing the production of excess sebum and inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, both of which can lead to acne.

3. Sleep deficiency can trigger skin conditions. A lack of sleep leaves you looking tired and susceptible to dark circles and can also weaken your immune system, which may trigger skin disorders such as eczema. A bad night’s sleep also increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which blocks the formation of collagen, the main protein that keeps skin tight and toned. High levels of cortisol also affect immune cells in the epidermis, which can weaken the skin’s defences against UV light, pollutants and infections.

4. Resting can improve the look of your skin. According to the British Association of Dermatologists, a state of “relaxed wakefulness” — ie meditation or any peaceful activity — can produce similar benefits to those from sleep, which means your skin can profit from these restful daytime activities, too.

5. Sleep affects weight-controlling hormones. Leptin and ghrelin work together to control appetite. Ghrelin, which is produced in the gut, stimulates appetite; leptin, produced in fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when you are full. Lack of sleep depletes leptin levels, which means you don’t feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, meaning your appetite is stimulated, so you crave more food.

6. Products are absorbed more easily at night. Research shows that your body’s blood flow increases at night, which increases the area of absorption for moisture and nutrients, too. Below is a beautiful oil you can make, rich in skin-healing essential fatty acids and skin-protective antioxidants. Enjoy!

Nighttime repair oil



  • 30mL apricot kernel oil
  • 10mL macadamia nut oil
  • 10mL rosehip oil
  • 2 drops carrot seed oil
  • 3 drops lavender essential oil
  1. Mix together all ingredients and store in a 50mL amber dropper bottle.



Carla Oates

Carla Oates is the CEO of The Beauty Chef, a natural beauty expert and the author of Feeding Your Skin and The Beauty Chef Cookbook.