As we rush to meet life’s demands, we often miss out on badly needed beauty sleep. When our heads finally hit the pillow, our minds whirl out of control, or our spouses snore, or our kids call out for comfort in the night. Instead of drifting off to dreamland, we toss and turn and then wake up the next morning looking bedraggled, with a sallow complexion, sagging posture, and puffy, dark rimmed eyes.
“Everyone has had the experience of not getting enough sleep and looking terrible the next day,” says Michael Twery, PhD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Our mothers told us to get a good night’s sleep to avoid catching a cold, and while that certainly seems to be the case, Twery says, our looks may suffer as well. “Resistance to infection seems to decline when we don’t get adequate sleep, and that doesn’t help our appearance.”
But is there any real science behind the myth of beauty sleep? More and more experts say yes. Scientific studies haven’t looked at how sleep affects appearance directly–for example, the way the lack of it impacts skin renewal–but we do know that our bodies repair cells and tissues while we sleep. Research also supports the notion that poor sleep patterns lead to poor health–and poor health can make us look a little less beautiful.
“You need sleep to look good because of the way it affects muscle growth, body weight, your risk for heart disease, your ability to age well, and so many other things,” says Sara Mednick, PhD, a research scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life (Workman, 2006). Even a quick catnap reduces the effects of stress by lowering the hormone cortisol, and stress plays a major role in aging.
More importantly, in a study of more than 23,000 adults conducted at Harvard School of Public Health, those who took regular naps had a 37 percent lower risk of dying from a heart attack than people who didn’t nap, and taking occasional naps lowered the risk by 12 percent. When we fall short of our optimum eight hours, napping helps our bodies carry out the regenerative tasks that only occur during sleep to keep us healthy, alert, and, yes, looking our best.
Forty Winks and Weight Loss
Sleep contributes as much to our well-being as eating right and exercising, but the average American adult sleeps less than seven hours a night, compared to nine hours in 1910. Sleeping only five hours a night may change our appearance because of the link between obesity and insufficient sleep. Lack of sleep lowers leptin levels and raises ghrelin, two hormones that regulate appetite, according to a study at Stanford University. Skimping on sleep also increases the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, a lifestyle disease linked to weight gain.
“It sounds counterintuitive because you think you’re burning more calories by staying awake and active,” says Helene A. Emsellem, MD, director of the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and author of Snooze… or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits (National Academies Press, 2006). “But you need to sleep to properly metabolize the calories you take in during the day.”
Although not an official disease, chronic sleeplessness carries an annual health care cost of $16 billion and costs $50 billion in lost productivity. With numbers like these, an entire industry has emerged to treat the estimated 70 million sleep-deprived Americans.
Savvy Sleep Strategies
• Sleep on schedule. Timing affects your circadian rhythm, so if your weekday and weekend bedtimes differ by more than two hours, you may have trouble falling asleep on weeknights.
• Avoid big meals before bedtime. Overloading the digestive system after 8 p.m. takes energy away from restorative tasks that occur during sleep. And go easy on alcohol, which can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night.
• Turn off lights, computers, and blinking Blackberries. The sleep hormone melatonin is sensitive to even low levels of light.
• Get regular exercise, preferably in the afternoon. Research shows an afternoon workout improves the quality of nighttime sleep. And a fit body sleeps better than an unfit one, says sleep center director Helene A. Emsellem, MD, although results may take several weeks to kick in.
• Wind down with a warm bath, some quiet music, a good book, or a few yoga stretches just before you climb into bed.
• Take a nap. Napping won’t interfere with bedtime sleeping, says Sara Mednick, PhD, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, as long as you don’t nap longer than an hour and a half and you leave a two-hour buffer between waking from a nap and going to sleep at night.
Good (Bed) Fellas
Badger Sleep Balm ($9, www.badgerbalm.com)
A rich aromatherapy balm to rub on temples or other pulse points. Made with extra-virgin olive oil, natural beeswax, castor oil, and essential oils of bergamot, ginger, organic rosemary, lavender, and organic balsam fir.
Badger Sleep Enhancer Massage Oil ($15, www.badgerbalm.com)
An aromatherapy massage oil blended with cold-pressed organic extra-virgin olive oil, ecologically grown and processed castor and jojoba oils, extracts of sea buckthorn berry, calendula, rose hip, and steam-distilled essential oils of ginger, rosemary, lavender, bergamot, and balsam fir.
Jane Go To Sleep Effervescent Cube ($7, www.jane-inc.com)
A fizzy handmade bath cube formulated to soothe with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), mugwort, spirulina, gota kola, and essential oils of lavender, chamomile, and sage.
Jane EyesTea ($8, www.jane-inc.com)
Steep and place the round unbleached teabags over closed eyes to relieve puffiness (without the black tea stains). Blended with dried elder, eyebright, fennel, chamomile, rose petals, calendula, and blackberry.
Joy of Sleep Restful Dream Pillows ($12, www.joyofsleep.com)
Soft pillows stuffed with buckwheat hulls and laced with lavender, hops, or chamomile.
Joy of Sleep Lavender Spa Mask ($18, www.joyofsleep.com)
Made from satin fabric and filled with flaxseeds, lavender, and other soothing herbs.
Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living offers its readers the latest news on health conditions, herbs and supplements, natural beauty products, healing foods and conscious living. Click here for a free sample issue.