Beauty sleep is a term we are all familiar with and it goes beyond just looking tired after a bad nights sleep. The physiological impact from stress and sleep disturbances have a real impact on skin healing and aging. Sleep disturbances regularly occur as a part of mental health condition such as chronic stress, while those suffering from a sleep issue may develop mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety secondary to disrupted sleep or insomnia. It’s one of those self perpetuating patterns that if left unchecked has the ability to run over into other health conditions, such as chronic skin issues. If your struggling with a skin condition and sleep optimization isn’t something you have considered, its probably time you evaluated the quality of your Z’s. Research shows that 50% of Australians are struggling to get a restful and good quality nights sleep while 20% are suffering with insomnia. I think it’s time to shed some light on how this connection works and why sleep and mental health are skin healing and anti-aging priorities.
Stress and Sleep Regulation
Cortisol our stress hormone is vital at certain levels for getting you up and going in the morning and keeping you energized through the day. Individuals with low cortisol can feel like they are in a state of chronic fatigue. Where on the other end of the spectrum those with high cortisol due to a prolonged stress response can feel irritable, anxious and even at times aggressive, just the opposite of relaxed. Sleeping in this state is difficult, aside from the obvious emotional discomfort our cortisol and our sleep hormone Melatonin are on a seesaw of sorts. When our cortisol is high our melatonin is low and vice versa. The body uses light to balance this process known as our circadian rhythm. Cortisol is released from the adrenal gland when light hits our eyes upon waking and melatonin release from the pineal gland in the brain is stimulated by darkness. This isn’t so smooth when chronic stress becomes part of the picture, cortisol interrupts our melatonin release and as a result sleep regulation becomes complicated. Lack of sleep is also a stressor, which increases stress hormone release while also decreasing our body’s adaptive capacity to deal with stress. Insomnia is where hyper arousal due to stimulating hormones and neurotransmitters including cortisol interrupt the sleep response.
Melatonin is made from serotonin, one of our mood lifting feel good hormones, so those suffering with depression where serotonin may be low or on an SSRI where serotonin is kept from being converted to melatonin can find themselves in a melatonin deficit. Melatonin is also an excellent anti-aging antioxidant, protecting our telomeres and cells from destructive free radical damage. You may have heard that Melatonin can be taken as a prescription medication, however in this form has been noted to dysregulate some women’s cycles, it’s also best to be used shorter term, so your body is best if you can regulate that first.
Functions of Sleep
Sleep is a very active process, brain activity varies across 5 sleep stages, which we repeat 4-5 times across a nights sleep. In different sleep stages our brain is focusing on different neurological and metabolic process such as detoxification, repair and healing of tissues, maintaining neuroplasticity (healthy brain architecture for mental health) and information integration into memory. Detoxification is a key function of sleep, the brain detoxifies itself with the brains version of a lymphatic system called glymphatics, where during slow wave sleep glymphatic pulsing washes the brain of debris and inflammatory proteins produced through the day. Liver, kidney and intestinal regeneration and detoxification are also active in our sleep. Less digestion over night allows for the liver to focus on regeneration and filtering and processing toxins from our blood. Growth hormone is released while we sleep and has the ability to accelerate cellular growth and repair, including that of skin cells by supporting cell turnover and wound healing while also slowing down the aging process.
Dysfunctional Sleep and Skin Conditions
In a sleep deficit our body is holding onto more toxins, chemicals, excess hormones and general waste. This means hormones aren’t being cleared as well as they should be in excess states that effect skin and Lymph will want to push toxins out through our largest eliminating organ, our skin. When sleep isn’t adequate to regulate immune function, inflammatory markers and inflammatory cytokine production increases and as a result inflammatory skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema, rosacea and psoriasis are aggravated. There is an inflammatory element to all skin conditions but those driven primarily by immune dysfunction are best highlighted here. In states of inadequate sleep where cortisol is increased we can see an increase in insulin, which can be a driver for many women’s PCOS and the androgen excesses seen in hormonal acne and hormonal hair loss or hirsutism patterns. Decreased liver functions of fat metabolism and glucose and insulin processing is also seen with sleep deprivation, further blood sugar handling issues can arise here for those with insulin resistance that is increasing androgen excesses in the above conditions.
Sleep hygiene is all about your sleep habits aiding in regulate your circadian rhythm. Light is a big part of this so having a dark quiet environment to sleep in is paramount. For most individuals healthy sleep is 8-9.5 hours a night, with as much before midnight sleep as possible. So a 10.00pm bedtime cutoff is optimal. Here are a few other sleep hygiene tips.
Use blue light altering settings on all screens, blue light filtering glasses or apps such as Flux. This should be set to turn on or used around the time it gets dark outside. To be safe from 6pm. Using dim lights or lamps instead of main lights at night help to wind cortisol production down. Using natural light in the daytime helps your body wakeup better, so waking up to a light lamp or letting full natural light in as soon as you wakeup helps to regulate your circadian rhythm. Increasing your daytime natural light exposure also helps to regulate this cycle. This could be a half hour lunch outside or more. It’s also fine to be in the shade just outside is optimal.
Aerobic exercise, if your really fatigued you can start with a half hour walk 1 x per week and increase from there. Just be exercising as much as you feel you can. Going for a walk everyday would be optimal and this can be swapped out for alternative aerobic exercise whenever preferred.
Mindfulness Activities (what ever suits you a couple times a week to every day)
-Meditation (this can be done lying in bed before sleep every night, Apps such as headspace are great for this)
No coffee or sugar after 3pm as a rule, for some doing a full coffee reset for 2 weeks is more favorable to evaluate the effect coffee is having on your sleep.
Natural Sleep Aids
Herbal medicine along with some nutritional supplements can be very beneficial in regulating circadian rhythm function, decreasing cortisol and regulating the stress response while also promoting sleep initiation. Some of my favorite sedative herbs that help to induce and maintain sleep in insomnia and altered sleep quality include; Lavender, Californian poppy, Hops, Passion flower, Zyziphus, Magnolia and Jamaican dogwood. Always consult your GP or practitioner if you are taking medication and want to use herbal medicines. The exact right prescription for you is best found by working with a naturopath or herbalist, as these herbs have many additional functions and a skilled herbalist will optimize the benefit be selecting medicines that work with your constitution and full health picture. Nutrition can be of benefit here and some of my favorites are magnesium, P5P and lactium. Working with a practitioner such as a naturopath will assist you in finding the right match for your personal health picture.