Anyone who’s ever gotten a bad night’s sleep knows that the effects show up in the mirror the next morning: dark circles, breakouts, sallow skin… the list goes on. Along the same lines, jet-lagged skin can look pretty rough, too. (Otherwise, nobody would need those giant sunglasses post-flight, right?)
The common thread between the two is your circadian rhythm – the 24-hour cycle that’s governed by your body’s biological clock. And while your circadian rhythm isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your skin, research shows it’s actually crucial for maintaining a healthy, resilient and (you guessed it) younger-looking complexion.
It all has to do with your skin’s stem cells. For instance, an October 2013 study published by Cell Press shows that during daylight hours, your skin’s stem cells switch on certain genes to defend themselves from UV light. Daytime defenses also work against other environmental stressors, such as pollution, that contribute to aging by breaking down healthy skin cells.
At night, on the other hand, while you’re snoozing away in the dark, your skin’s stem cells don’t need to go into defense mode. Instead, they can focus on producing healthy cells to replace the damaged cells.
Your skin’s natural antioxidant protection is generally highest between the hours of 7 and 11 a.m. On the flip side, skin reaches its peak reparative levels between the hours of 10 p.m. and midnight. When its circadian rhythm is disrupted, your skin isn’t able to fend off damage or repair as effectively, causing a breakdown of collagen and elastin.
So what can you do about all this? First, don’t freak if you’ve gotten a few bad nights of sleep. It’s the chronic disruptions that bring all the side effects. Second, stack the deck in favor of your skin with products that help your skin’s circadian rhythm function in a healthy way. At night, use a retinol or prescription retinoid to stimulate additional skin cell turnover and keep your skin smooth and wrinkle-free.
Night is also the perfect time to treat skin to an intense does of hydration (try products containing hyaluronic acid), since sebum production (aka your skin’s natural oil) is lowest while you’re sleeping.
During the day, boost your skin’s levels of natural antioxidant protection with a broad spectrum sunscreen (you should be doing this already!) that contains additional antioxidants to protect against skin cancer and skin cell breakdown.
But above all else, make getting a good night’s sleep a priority!