If you’re practically in tears when your alarm goes off in the morning, you’re not alone. More than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And that percentage is even higher for teens and young adults.
Whether you’re staying up late to get work done or binge watch your latest Netflix obsession, an insufficient amount of sleep can affect the way you feel, function and look during your waking hours. A good night’s sleep (7-9 hours for adults; 8-10 for teens) allows your body to rejuvenate and your energy supply to recharge. When you’re not well rested, your brain, your body and your skin are not at their best.
>> If you’re curious about your daytime sleepiness level and whether you are getting enough sleep, check out the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.
Essential for Learning
From Elon Musk to Marissa Mayer, many successful executives claim to sleep only four hours or so each night. But how does that really affect brain function?
When we learn new things, the connections between the neurons in our brain get stronger and larger, which is essential to remembering new knowledge. That expansion creates a need for renormalization, which is the shrinking of some neurons in order to make space for new learning. Renormalization occurs while we are sleeping.
So while skimping on sleep may allow for more work time, it also makes learning and remembering new things more difficult. Lack of sleep decreases one’s attention span, concentration, problem-solving abilities and sound judgment (all of which are quite helpful for strong work performance). When we are well rested, we can stay alert, think quickly and improve our memory function.
Keeping Our Emotions in Check
Ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed? That grumpy, irritable state is often caused by an insufficient amount of sleep. Your mood and sleep are very closely connected. The amount of sleep you get affects your mood just as much as your mood can affect the amount of sleep you get.
The amygdala is your brain’s fear, anger and emotions center. While you sleep, it regulates emotions with neutrality. So if you don’t get enough sleep, that mood regulation is disturbed and you are left waking up in a negative mood.
A good night of sleep also allows your brain to release epinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, all of which are neurotransmitters that boost happiness and energy.
Smoother, Clearer Skin
Now … onto to the effects we see in the mirror everyday – our skin. Skimping on zzz’s increases acne, causes premature wrinkles and dehydrates your skin. Sleep deprivation causes your body to release the stress hormone cortisol, which triggers skin inflammation and sebum production. Inflammation breaks down the proteins that keep skin smooth. And excess sebum clogs pores and triggers breakouts.
Cortisol also breaks down collagen, the protein that provides elasticity and structural support to your skin. It’s what keeps skin firm, smooth and “bouncy,” so it's a huge part of the skin’s structure. As our skin ages, it’s already losing collagen. Elevations of cortisol levels from sleep deprivation are likely to exacerbate the loss.
Last time you pulled an all-nighter (studying or otherwise), do you remember your skin and eyes feeling dry and itchy? Not getting enough sleep also lowers the body’s pH level, creating an imbalance and reducing your skin’s ability to produce sufficient moisture.
Plus, no sleep means dark circles and puffiness under the eyes! When we don’t get enough sleep, the blood vessels under our eyes dilate, leaving a dark tint. It also causes fluid buildup, making them appear swollen or puffy.
A Solid Seven to Nine
Healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night (and adolescents need even more) so our brains and bodies can function properly and our skin can look its best. If that sounds like an impossible feat, here are some tips to help:
1. Count your sleep cycles
Basically, there are five stages of sleep, ranging from light sleep to deep sleep. One whole sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes. And 90 x 5 = 450 minutes, or 7.5 hours. Starting at the time you have to wake up, count back 7.5 hours to find your ideal bedtime. The goal is to wake up near the end of a cycle, when you’re in a light sleep, so you aren’t interrupting a deep sleep stage and wake up feeling more refreshed.
2. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
Whether that means journaling about your day or a 10-minute meditation, anything that you find relaxing will prepare your body to fall asleep. Giving yourself time to decompress from the day will help improve your sleep quality and ultimately benefit your skin.
RELATED READ: Meditation For Your Mind, Body, and Acne
3. Practice good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene includes a variety of practices that can help increase one’s amount and quality of sleep. For example, you should limit daytime naps, avoid stimulants like caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime, and make sure your bedroom is only used for sleep (not work).
How many hours of beauty sleep do you get each night? Do you have a bedtime routine? Share with us!