5 Surprising Things That Happen To Your Skin When You Sleep

Plus how to *really* get beauty sleep.

5 surprising things that happen to your skin when you sleep.
Getty Images/ Gary John Norman

During the day, your beauty products — for the most part — work to protect your skin from external elements like the sun’s rays and the environment. But what happens to your skin when you sleep is a different story that calls for a slightly tweaked regimen.

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Heidi Waldorf, M.D., the nighttime calls for skin renewal, which includes a range of recharging properties. “We're not exposed to the sun, and [when you’re sleeping is] also a time when people are usually not running around sweating, they aren't wearing makeup, so all of those things allow us to use [topicals] that help with renewal,” she tells Bustle. In this case, renewal involves repairing damaged tissues and regulating moisture through the right creams.

Because a lot happens to your skin when you sleep, it’s important to be mindful of what products to apply. First and foremost, dermatologists say it’s key to support the skin barrier and to moisturize since your skin’s hydration levels can diminish overnight. Sleep is also prime time to slather on collagen-stimulating ingredients like retinoids and antioxidant serums can thrive in an environment with no free radicals like sunlight and debris.

Your quality of ZZZs overall can impact your skin, too. Poor sleep can take a toll on your skin, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King, M.D., which can lead to increased stress hormones, worsening inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea, acne, and eczema — all the more reason to get the recommended 6 to 8 hours of rest.

For the full low-down on what happens to your skin when you sleep — including how to reap the most beauty sleep benefits — here’s what to know.

1. Your Skin Loses Moisture

When you’re snoozing, you can experience transepidermal water loss, says Dr. Daniel Sugai, M.D., a Seattle-based dermatologist, which basically means your skin loses moisture. This is more drastic during the wintertime in a dehumidified environment. His tip? It’s essential to seal moisture into your skin, so be sure to use a moisturizer. Sugai recommends an occlusive like Vaseline or Aquaphor, but King says you can use any moisturizer that contain humectants to hydrate and emollients to support the skin barrier.

2. Your Pillowcase Can Cause Lines

If you’re a side-sleeper, listen up. “One big downside [that happens] while you're sleeping is that your face is often pressed into a pillow,” says Waldorf. “We get things called sleep lines, and the sleep lines are from pressure.” You could sleep on your back to avoid this, but some people have trouble holding one position all night. For your best skin protection, Waldorf recommends using silk or silk-like pillowcases as they cut down on the friction between your face and the case. She also suggests using pillows made to protect skin from creases, including those with dips or holes on the side, that don’t allow your skin to get smushed.

3. Your Collagen Production Is Affected

Though collagen production doesn’t just happen when you sleep, nighttime is the best time to take advantage of the process, says Waldorf. “During the day, there's more going on [in the outdoor environment like exposure to UV rays and pollution] that could damage it,” she says. When you sleep, take advantage of using retinoids, antioxidant serums, and bakuchiol (a plant-based alternative to retinol) to promote collagen in an environment where your skin isn’t threatened by outdoor elements. Plus, ingredients like retinol make your skin more sensitive to the sun, says King, so they’re best used at night.

4. Your Hormone Levels Fluctuate

King says that getting enough sleep is critical for the healing and repair of damaged tissues. “During sleep our bodies produce fewer stress hormones and more growth hormones and body-repairing hormones, allowing damaged cells to be repaired,” she says. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body can increase your stress hormones, which can lead to flare-ups of inflammatory skin conditions like acne and psoriasis, she says. Plus, without deeper phases of sleep, cell turnover cannot occur, which results in more noticeable signs of aging, King says (studies have also shown that sleep deprivation can increase fine lines and reduce elasticity).

5. Your Skin Can Retain Fluid

Since you're horizontal in your bed when you sleep, King says your fluid balance — aka the liquid hydration within your body — recalibrates. In other words, when you’re upright during the day, your fluid is better circulating throughout your body, but when you’re lying in bed, it can make its way to your face. “That's one reason why we get puffier in our face, particularly around the eyes, overnight,” she says. Her remedy? Apply eye creams with caffeine. “Caffeine constricts the blood vessels so you'll get less fluid accumulating there,” she says.


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Dr. Daniel Sugai, M.D., Seattle-based dermatologist

Dr. Heidi Waldorf, M.D., board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Hadley King, M.D., board-certified dermatologist