The Connection Between Sleep and Dermatological Conditions The Connection Between Sleep and Dermatological Conditions
Atopic dermatitis & Psoriasis

The Connection Between Sleep and Dermatological Conditions

While poor sleep quality is already known to cause several illnesses if not corrected, the health of your skin is rarely linked to sleep.

In several studies, researchers found a solid link between dermatological conditions and sleep, which can eventually lead to poor quality of life and increase the risk of numerous mental disorders. The reason is that dermatological conditions are often chronic and have no curative treatment.

However, the effects of sleep quality on preexisting dermatological conditions (e.g., atopic dermatitis, psoriasis) is seldom discussed.

For this reason, we decided to write this article and share with you the scientific evidence that connects sleep quality with skin disease.

The definition of healthy sleep

Most people confuse sleep quality with the number of hours you spend in bed, which is completely irrelevant.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, healthy sleep is subject to numerous factors and can be defined by the presence of:

  • Brief duration between bedtime and actually falling asleep
  • Regular sleep duration consisting of 7-9 hours in one day
  • Continuous sleep during the night (i.e., no interruptions)
  • Feeling energized during the next morning
  • Being productive during the morning hours
  • The absence of any abnormal behavior associated with sleep (e.g., snoring, restlessness, sleepwalking, obstructive sleep apnea)

Meeting all these conditions is what defines a healthy sleep, but if you’re going through a phase of poor sleep quality or full-blown sleep disorders, you can expect that to influence several physiological functions, including brain activity, metabolism, and skin health.

The effect of sleep on skin conditions

One of the first signs that someone is not properly sleeping during the night is the quality of their facial skin when they wake up.

According to one study, poor sleep quality can lead to the following skin issues:

  • Ocular edema (i.e., swollen eyes)
  • Skin discoloration (e.g., hyperpigmentation, pale skin)
  • Dark undereye circles
  • Excessive wrinkles and fine lines

Moreover, a 2017 study concluded that 2-day sleep deprivation negatively impacted the attractiveness, general health, and somnolence of participants.

Unfortunately, if sleep problems persist for long, they can be responsible for the emergence of new skin issues or exacerbate preexisting dermatological conditions.

To simplify the connection between sleep and the skin, try to go back to the basics by remembering the physiological benefits of sleep.

While most people appreciate that sleep is important to reboot the brain and fix any issues, they rarely connect sleep to other organ systems.

In reality, sleep is as important to your skin as it is for your brain and muscles.

The most significant event that occurs during sleep is the vasodilation (expansion) of superficial blood vessels that feed the skin, which allows for the resorption of dead tissue and the deposition of collagen and elastin fibers. Consequently, your risk of developing wrinkles and other age-related skin deterioration decreases.

Psoriasis and sleep

Psoriasis is one of the most common dermatological conditions worldwide, with an estimated prevalence of 7.4 million patients in the United States alone.

In one study, researchers found that sleep deprivation negatively affects patients with psoriasis, concluding that “These data suggest that sleep deprivation plays an important role in the exacerbation of psoriasis through modulation of the immune system in the epidermal barrier. Thus, sleep loss should be considered a risk factor for the development of psoriasis.”

The study based this conclusion on the extremely elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., IL-1β, IL-6, IL-12, kallikrein-5, kallikrein-7) and their role in exacerbating the symptoms of psoriasis.

Moreover, psychological stress is often seen in sleep-deprived patients due to hyperalertness of the central nervous system, which eventually worsens the patient’s quality of life, as it’s a documented trigger of psoriatic flareups.

Atopic dermatitis and sleep

Researchers found an intertwined relationship between atopic dermatitis and sleep quality, creating a vicious cycle that’s extremely difficult to stop.

In a 2018 study, researchers found that poor sleep quality leads to hormonal imbalance, which negatively impacts atopic dermatitis and predisposes patients to flareups.

By interfering with the secretion of cortisol, sleep deprivation can increase the severity of pruritus in atopic dermatitis patients, which worsens the prognosis.

How to improve your skin through sleep

As we become familiar with the skin damage that results from poor sleep quality, we also need to cover some healthy tips to optimize your circadian rhythm.

Avoid using the phone or laptop

Digital devices constantly emit UV light beams that suppress the release of melatonin, which is the primary hormone responsible for inducing sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends avoiding the use of any digital devices 2-3 hours before bedtime.

Avoid exercise before bedtime

Despite the integral role of exercise for your health, performing intense physical activity before bed leads to the release of potent central nervous stimulants, such as dopamine and norepinephrine.

Consequently, you may find it challenging to fall asleep, which could precipitate the beginning of insomnia.

Note that physical activity can significantly improve your sleep quality, which is something you shouldn’t neglect.

Limit your intake of stimulants (e.g., caffeine, nicotine)

Everyone is aware that drinking coffee, tea, or any stimulant beverage will prevent them from falling asleep.

However, the effect of these substances lasts for hours after drinking the beverage. For instance, if you drink coffee at 5 AM, you may not be able to fall asleep at 10 AM.

Other tips

The tips we listed above focused on making lifestyle modifications to improve sleep quality. However, there are other activities you can perform to sleep better and improve your skin health.

These including:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Practicing yoga
  • Meditation
  • Taking a warm bath

Takeaway message

Sleep quality is extremely important to ensure the proper function of your organ systems, including the biggest organ in the body – the skin.

Hopefully, this article managed to shed some light on the importance of sleeping sufficient hours during the night and the quality of your sleep, as well as how sleep disorders can affect your skin and exacerbate preexisting dermatological conditions.

Here you can read more about what you can do to strengthen your immune system:

Written by Zac Hyde M.D.