Stress, Sleep & Your Skin

By Liesl Lamprecht

Did you know that stress and sleep can have a significant impact on the appearance of your skin? If you’re struggling to manage your stress and get your eight hours of beauty sleep, rest assured that you’re not alone.

According to a study in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, the quality and length of our sleep can have a considerable impact on our skin’s overall health and wellbeing. The skin recharges and recovers while we sleep, and uses the restful time to actively heal, restore and eliminate toxins.

If stress is keeping you up at night, your body’s ability to carry out these essential functions is compromised.

How do stress and sleep affect the skin?


Stress causes your body to produce more cortisol which, in turn, makes your brain’s hypothalamus produce corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH stimulates oil production from the sebaceous glands around the hair follicles, which can clog your pores and cause acne.  In addition to stress and a lack of sleep, factors like excessive alcohol consumption, menstruation and bad eating habits can all worsen breakouts.  

Dull Skin

Sleep deprivation leads to higher levels of cortisol, which can trigger inflammation and lead to the disintegration of the proteins that help to keep the skin smooth and radiant. Too little sleep can also cause a lack of oxygen in the blood, making your skin appear ashy, pigmented or blotchy.

Dry Skin

Your body perspires during sleep, which helps to rebalance the skin’s extra moisture and smooth out wrinkles and dry patches.  Sleep deprivation affects the skin’s water retention and lowers the pH level. The stratum corneum (outer layer of the skin) acts as a barrier, and contains proteins and lipids that help to keep the skin cells hydrated. When there is a pH imbalance and damaged skin barrier, your skin produces and retains less moisture, which leads to dry and itchy skin.

Dark Circles

A lack of sleep leads to the dilation of the blood vessels under your eyes. This manifests as dark circles below the eyes, and can also be characterised by swelling and puffiness. A loss of skin elasticity caused by ageing can also contribute to the formation of bags under your eyes.

Premature Ageing

Collagen plays a role in the elasticity and structure of the skin. When it is broken down due to chronic stress, the skin can show premature signs of ageing. It becomes thinner and less firm, and appears less smooth and supple, with wrinkles showing more prominently.  A repeated furrowing of your brow due to stress may also contribute to the formation of wrinkles.

Seven Steps to Sound Sleep & Smooth Skin

  1. Maintain a routine - Establish a strict bed time, and try to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
  2. Prioritise skincare - Wash your face before you go to bed, and implement a good skincare routine that will help to restore your complexion.
  3. Stay active and healthy - Cultivate healthy eating habits, and try to do regular exercise. Exercise can help to lower stress hormone levels and take your mind off the reason behind your stress.
  4. Include relaxing activities in your schedule - Enjoyable and relaxing daily activities or rituals can help to take your mind off the stressors of daily life.
  5. Sleep smoothly - Consider getting silk or high thread count sheets and pillow cases to help avoid any pulling on the skin.
  6. Talk it out - By being open about your stress and mental health struggles with a friend, family member or mental health professional, you can share the burden and find support to help you deal with your anxiety and sleep struggles.
  7. Avoid drugs and alcohol, and don’t smoke before bed - All of these can worsen your stress and attempts to fall asleep, while also dulling your complexion.

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