Lacking Sleep? Clinical Trial Discovers Skin Aging and Wrinkles Follow Sleep Deficiency

lacking-sleepEveryone knows the term “beauty sleep,” which translated means that sleep is good for what makes you look good – like your skin, maybe. Definitely like your skin, especially if you’re older, as in older than thirty. This, according to a newly completed Phase II clinical trial conducted by University Hospitals Case Medical Center (Cleveland, Ohio) – a trial commissioned by Estee Lauder (it should be added).

What is it about sleep, age and the dermis? Well, for starters, sleep is generally necessary for all mammals. There are a lot of reasons, some known – such as refurbishing memory (called dreaming) – and some not yet known (lots of new research). In any case, whatever your age, getting enough sleep has many health benefits. Which means that not getting enough sleep has negative health effects, which even common sense suggests.

Not getting enough sleep on a consistent basis, sleep deprivation, is all too common in the modern world. Study after study documents how it can (among other things) impair memory, slow down reflexes and generally degrade ‘cognitive performance’ (you don’t think so well). Now, add to that list that sleep deprivation can also cause your skin to age faster.

The clinical trial involved 60 women, all pre-menopausal and between the ages of 30 and 49. About half the women researchers categorized as having “poor quality sleep.” Sleep quality is obviously a somewhat subjective concept, but the researchers employed a well-known standard, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, which uses a questionnaire to evaluate a person’s sleep habits (time of sleep, sleep disturbances, sleep medication use, length of sleep, sleepiness (day and night), and general sleep quality).

Along with the sleep habit evaluation, researchers also established a baseline of skin condition for each participant. They noted characteristics such as elasticity, dryness, wrinkling, pigmentation and the presence (or lack) of skin oils, following a standard skin aging scoring system known as SCINEXA.

During the trial, which consisted of participants maintaining a log of their sleep and sleep habits over a week, researchers conducted various “skin stressor” events, such as exposing the skin to UV light or keeping the skin wet for a lengthy period. At the end of a week, the skin condition was re-evaluated to note changes. With this data in hand, the researchers then determined those participants with a record of sleep deprivation who continued those habits throughout the test, which became the “sleep deprivation group.” They were contrasted with participants having an ongoing record of more or less normal sleep and sleep habits.

Based on the re-evaluation of skin condition, again using the SCINEXA standard scoring, the researchers found “statistically significant differences between good and poor quality sleepers.” This phrase is important because it signals that the researchers used various statistical tests to make sure the results were not biased by unusual results (outliers) and other possible statistical errors.

What they found was that poor quality sleepers showed increased signs of intrinsic skin aging, including fine lines, uneven pigmentation, slackening of skin and reduced skin elasticity. Numerically, according to the SCINEXA scale, the poor sleep group scored 4.4 compared to 2.2 for the good sleep group – with lower scores being better, the poor sleep group had twice as much skin aging. Significant indeed.

Poor sleep quality had several effects on skin, for example, those who slept poorly recovered more slowly from skin damage such as sunburn, with redness remaining typically over 72 hours. Those who slept well also overcame Transepidermal Water Loss (the ability of skin to retain moisture) 30% higher than poor sleepers.

In a nod to many other studies showing links between sleep and obesity (with associated increase in the risk of Type 2 diabetes), the Cleveland clinical trial found that poor quality sleepers were more likely to have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI). For example, 44% of poor sleepers were obese, compared to 23% of good sleepers.

While measuring the effects of sleep on skin quality is of more cosmetic interest than say the effect on heart disease, this clinical trial – the first of its kind – is another study that demonstrates the linkage between sleep and general health. The skin, the body’s largest organ, is like other organs in that it needs sleep to regenerate. Deprived of sleep, skin ages more rapidly.

It’s interesting to note that the women with poor sleep quality were the least likely to have a favorable perception of their attractiveness. Whether that is a mental condition induced by lack of sleep, or a reasonable evaluation of their actual condition remains – subjective.

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