We do so much to make our skin look great in the morning. Our bathroom counters are cluttered with everything from 10-step skin care to Fenty foundation, or the most recent Amazon haul from clean beauty brands.

But what if one of the biggest secrets to better skin was as simple as laying down and taking a nap? After all, our body never stops working — especially when we’re asleep.

It turns out there’s quite a bit of research and science behind the concept of beauty rest. Sleep is when some of the most important internal — and epidermal — recovery takes place!

While you shouldn’t fully abandon your daytime skin care routine in favor of getting more Zzz’s, there are some easy ways to amp your skin-sleep relationship for morning results.

How sleep affects your skin

You can almost immediately tell that getting a poor night of sleep doesn’t do woke-up-like-this wonders for your face. Research even says that one night of poor sleep can cause:

  • hanging eyelids
  • swollen eyes
  • darker undereye circles
  • paler skin
  • more wrinkles and fine lines
  • more droopy corners of the mouth

A 2017 study found that two days of sleep restriction negatively affected participant’s perceived attractiveness, health, sleepiness, and trustworthiness.

So, what seems like an overnight issue could transform into something more permanent.

First and foremost, you should understand that sleep is the time when your body repairs itself. This is true for your epidermis as much as it is for your brain or your muscles. During sleep, your skin’s blood flow increases, and the organ rebuilds its collagen and repairs damage from UV exposure, reducing wrinkles and age spots.

Second, sleep is a time when your face inevitably comes into contact with the elements directly around it for a long time, especially if you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours each night.

Think about it: Your face against rough, drying cotton for one-third of its existence and being exposed to the sun for two unprotected hours could do a number on the appearance and health of your skin. Here’s what you can do to help give your skin a rest.

1. Get a full night of sleep

The best place to start for your skin — and for your overall health — is to get the recommended amount of rest each night.

The results of poor sleep for your skin are numerous and significant, including:

Sometimes you might have an off day but you should average seven to nine hours of sleep. If you’re wondering how to reset your internal clock and catch up on rest, try sleeping in on the weekends by following our three-day fix guide.

You can also track your sleep with a wearable fitness tracker.

2. Wash your face before turning in

We’ve established how sleeping is a surefire way to help your skin repair itself: blood flow increases, collagen is rebuilt, and the muscles in your face relax after a long day.

But going to sleep with a dirty face can also harm the appearance of your skin.

Cleansing your face each night is arguably more important than in the morning — you don’t need to use fancy products or scrub too hard. A gentle cleanser to remove dirt, makeup, and extra oil will do the trick.

You don’t want to give the day’s pore-clogging irritants the chance to sink in and do damage overnight. This can cause:

3. Use an overnight moisturizer and put a glass of water on your bedside table

Washing your face can dry it out and sleeping can also dehydrate skin, especially if you snooze in a low-humidity environment. While staying hydrated by drinking water can help to some extent, what your skin really needs at night is a topical moisturizer.

Again, you don’t need the fanciest product on the market. You just need a thicker cream or oil that can help your skin as you sleep. Another option is to use your day moisturizer and layer petroleum jelly — using clean hands — on top to lock in the moisturize. For a more supercharged product, try an overnight sleeping mask.

4. Sleep on your back or use a special pillowcase

It makes sense that the position your face is in while you sleep (for one-third of your day!) matters to your skin.

Sleeping on a rough cotton surface can irritate your skin and compress your face for long hours at a time, resulting in wrinkles. While most wrinkles are caused by the expressions we make while we’re awake, wrinkles on the face and chest can result from sleeping on our stomachs or sides.

An easy solution to this is sleeping on your back — which also has a few other benefits — even if you have to train yourself over time.

If you prefer to sleep on your side, get a skin-friendly pillow. A satin or silk pillow minimizes skin irritation and compression while copper-oxide pillowcases may reduce crow’s-feet and other fine lines.

5. Elevate your head

Elevating your head has been proven to help with snoring, acid reflux, and nasal drip — all issues that can disturb the quality of your sleep, and therefore your skin. In addition, it can help reduce bags and circles under your eyes by improving blood flow and preventing blood from pooling.

Elevating your head while you sleep can be as simple as adding an extra pillow, adding a wedge to your mattress, or even propping the head of your bed by a few inches.

6. Stay away from sun while you snooze

While we do most of our sleeping in the dark, sleeping with your skin directly exposed to the sun in the morning, or during naps, can have a damaging effect on your skin’s health and appearance — not to mention that sleeping in a lighted room can disturb sleep and sleep rhythms.

Getting blackout curtains or making sure that your bed is out of the sun’s direct line can help.

Embrace healthy sleep as a way to healthy skin

In 2019, the skin care industry will see an estimated $130 billion dollars of global sales, in the form of lotions, fillers, serums, and scrubs. But while we often spend a lot of our time layering and lasering our skin, paying attention to how we treat our skin during sleeping hours shouldn’t be overlooked.

It’s not just for a glow or looking youthful, it’s about maintaining your health in body, mind, and skin for years to come. A few wrinkles never hurt anyone — in fact, they’re usually a sign of happy years lived.


Sarah Aswell is a freelance writer who lives in Missoula, Montana with her husband and two daughters. Her writing has appeared in publications that include The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, National Lampoon, and Reductress.

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