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Poor Sleep Affects Skin Aging and Function


Add skin health to the list of medical conditions that are affected by poor sleep. Sun protection should be emphasized in skin care.

Add skin health to the list of medical conditions that are affected by poor sleep. Poor sleep quality can accelerate signs of skin aging and weaken the skin’s ability to repair itself at night, according to the first study to demonstrate conclusively that inadequate sleep is correlated with reduced skin health.

“Just like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, premature aging and poor skin functioning and recovery can now be associated with poor sleep,” said Dr Elma Baron, Director of the Skin Study Center at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Associate Professor of Dermatology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

“We found that inadequate sleep was significantly associated with signs of premature aging, including uneven pigmentation, fine wrinkling, and loss of skin elasticity,” she noted. “Poor sleep was also found to be associated with more moisture loss through the skin and a slower recovery from sunburn.”

Dr Baron led a study of 60 premenopausal women, age 30 to 49 years, who underwent a visual skin evaluation and participated in several noninvasive skin challenge tests, including ultraviolet light exposure and skin barrier disruption. In addition, the participants filled out a sleep log for 1 week to quantify sleep duration. Half of them were classified as poor quality sleepers.

The poor quality sleepers showed increased signs of intrinsic skin aging, including fine lines, uneven pigmentation, and slackening of skin and reduced elasticity. There was no significant difference between the groups in signs of extrinsic aging, such as coarse wrinkles and sunburn freckles, Dr Baron noted.

The good quality sleepers recovered more efficiently from stressors to the skin. Recovery from sunburn was more sluggish in poor quality sleepers, with erythema remaining higher over 72 hours, indicating that inflammation is less efficiently resolved, Dr Baron said. In measurements taken 72 hours after a skin barrier stressor, the recovery of good quality sleepers was 30% higher than that of poor quality sleepers, demonstrating that they repair the damage more quickly, she added.

In addition, a higher body mass index was significantly more likely to be found in poor quality sleepers and about one-fourth of good quality sleepers were obese compared with nearly half of poor quality sleepers.

“Poor sleep quality may accelerate signs of skin aging and weaken the skin’s ability to repair itself at night,” said Dr Baron. “Possibilities revolve around the circadian rhythm, which gets disrupted by inadequate sleep. There are certain genes and proteins that should be upregulated during sleep, and if they are not, then they are unable to perform their function. Oxidative stress may also play a role because there are natural antioxidants that are secreted when we sleep.”

Dr Baron’s message to primary care physicians: “Skin care is even more important in patients who lack sleep. For example, sun protection should be emphasized because they could have poor recovery from sunburns.” She suggested that the use of moisturizers is important because poor sleepers lose more moisture through the skin.

Dr Baron presented the data at the International Investigative Dermatology Meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, in an abstract titled “Effects of Sleep Quality on Skin Aging and Function.”

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