One cannot think well, love well or dine well if one has not slept well, to paraphrase that famous quote by author Virgina Woolf.
And it’s fair to say when you look at the research on sleep and its impact on health, one cannot expect to function on all cylinders – let alone glow! – without a proper night’s rest.
In the halcyon days for tabloid magazines, on which I worked for some years of my career during the 1990s to mid Noughties, consumers might have scoffed at some of the “out-there” headlines but clamoured with their wallets to know more.
I recall at one such weekly magazine I worked the editor celebrating a massive sales spike of an issue. Market research showed it was largely attributable to one coverline: “Lose Weight While You Sleep”.
It was subject to much smug sniggering by media observers at the time despite its popularity with readers but, let’s face it, it wasn’t untrue.
While you’re sleeping you’re not eating!
But the great irony is, with the surge in awareness of all things holistic health, there is scientific evidence to support the fact that (good) sleep can indeed help you lose weight, or at least not pack it on without obvious reason.
This, as well as promote better mental health, skin health, and overall appearance and energy levels. All inter-connected.
After recently trying The Beauty Chef’s new Sleep Inner Beauty Powder I had two of the soundest nights’ sleep in years.
I was so impressed I shared my experience on my personal Facebook page and within an hour had more than 20 sleep-deprived friends wanting to know where to get it. It’s an epidemic!
Indeed, sleep (or the lack thereof) is one of 2017’s hottest wellness topics. SPA+CLINIC talks to experts about why not just any old sleep, but good, sound REM-rich snoozing is essential for optimum health and appearance.
IT TAKES THE PRESSURE DOWN
As one of the most basic and fundamental human functions, sleep is as essential to good health and glowing skin as a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, says The Beauty Chef, Carla Oates.
Yet with full, fast-paced lifestyles and an imbalanced day-night body rhythm, it’s estimated that up to a third of Australian adults regularly have difficulty either getting to sleep or staying asleep (The Medical Journal of Australia, 2013).
This is the reason we recently released Sleep Inner Beauty Powder, with lemon balm and passionflower which are traditionally used in Western herbal medicine as a sedative to promote a restful night’s sleep, as well as a range of herbs and spices for a delicious and nourishing bedtime drink.
On average, we are now sleeping two hours less a night than we did 70 years ago and the effects on our wellbeing are becoming impossible to ignore.
There is growing scientific evidence about the negative effects of short and long-term sleep deprivation.
Yet the arrival of smart devices has led to some less-than-smart screen behaviours and social media addictions that impact the quality and quantity of our sleep.
Most of us need at least seven to nine hours sleep a night. For some, 10 is the magic number.
If you feel like you don’t have time for sleep, think about what you have to gain. Studies have shown people who sleep more enjoy better moods, energy, mental agility, attention spans, memory, gross motor skills and faster reaction times. They also have more balanced hormones and are less likely to overeat and gain weight. Plus good sleep is vital for healthy skin and immunity.
Short and long sleep deprivation have been linked to anxiety, depression, mood swings and irritability, a slow metabolism, overeating and weight gain, forgetfulness, foggy thinking, lethargy, inflammation, oxidative stress, premature ageing, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and compromised immunity.
IT ALLOWS THE BODY TO REPAIR AND RENEW
The unconscious hours of sleep are a time for important hard work for the body, says Matoyla Kollaras*.
It’s the time the body can undergo upgrade, repair and detoxify, recover from damage, and create reservoirs to help protect itself against illness.
Every tissue in the body is renewed faster during sleep than at any time when awake because, while you sleep, the brain triggers the release of hormones that encourage tissue restoration and growth.
The skin is the largest organ of the body, and hence also a recipient of the vital recovery, rejuvenating and regenerative properties of sleep.
During the day, the skin – being first and foremost an organ of protection – is in defence mode against such factors as UV radiation and free radicals. In addition, the state of the body is dominated by the work of stimulating hormones such as adrenaline and corticosteroids.
When we sleep however, we move into an anabolic state and the skin “lets its guard down”, switching into conservation, repair and maintenance mode.
As levels of adrenaline and corticosteroids drop, the body starts to produce human growth hormone (HGH). All these actions have a direct bearing on the health and vitality of skin.
Furthermore, the elimination of toxins occurs primarily at night while the body rests.
Skin makes new collagen during sleep – part of the natural repair process. According to dermatologists, getting only five hours a night can lead to twice as many fine lines developing as sleeping seven would.
Microcirculation, and thus blood flow in the skin is boosted during sleep. On the other hand, sleep deprivation causes a decrease in blood flow to the skin, leaving it potentially dull, dry, ashen and lifeless.
Skin can focus on repairing itself during sleep as it isn’t defending itself from sun and free radicals. Blood flow is also inadequate and/or poor sleep can lead to increased stress hormones in the body that increase the severity of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis, and skin sensitivity.
You need anywhere between seven and nine hours sleep. However, it also has to be quality undisturbed sleep, because sleep phases determine the healing and regeneration ability. If you are waking up every couple of hours, no matter that you have slept eight hours, your body will not recover fully.
During undisturbed sleep (or slow-wave sleep), the plasma growth hormone (human growth hormone – somatropin) in humans is found to be at its highest levels. If the sleep stage process is interrupted, complete repair of soft tissues is impossible due to the resulting decrease or absence of human growth hormone – somatropin.
Increased inflammatory cells in the body lead to an increase in the breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid.
Not enough sleep makes immune-related skin problems worse. Increased inflammation interferes with the body’s ability to regulate the immune system, leading to flare-ups of immune- related skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema.
During sleep the body’s hydration rebalances. Skin is able to recover moisture, while excess water in general in the body is processed for removal. Not getting enough sleep results in poor water balance, leading to puffy bags under the eyes and under-eye circles, as well as dryness and more visible wrinkles.
During deep sleep, an increase in the production of growth hormones allows damaged cells to become repaired. Without
the deeper phases of sleep, this won’t occur, allowing daily small breakdowns to accumulate instead of being reversed overnight. This results in more noticeable signs of ageing.
* Matoyla is managing director of Skin Factors, distributors in Australia of Christina Cosmeceuticals and Ahava Dead Sea skincare, and has studied widely in nutritional medicine and complementary therapies. CHRISTINACOSMECEUTICALS.COM.AU; AHAVA.COM.AU
IT’S PRIME TIME FOR SKINCARE
As we sleep, active and nourishing ingredients have time to penetrate and do their job in the deeper dermal layers while we sleep, says Luca Mora, CEO of Skeyndor Australia.
It is also an ideal time to use oils – either mixed with night creams or applied after a night cream.
Oils help to replace the lipids in the barrier layer, lubricate the cell walls to increase permeability and boost hydration, repair ceramides and prevent trans- epidermal water loss.
It is also very beneficial to do facial massage at night because it eases tension (when muscles on the face tense up, it is more likely to harbour wrinkles), increases blood flow and oxygen to the area which in turn increases collagen production, creates a healthy glow, anD helps products absorb more easily into the skin.
Skeyndor Eternal Sleeping Oil contains nourishing avocado and wheatgerm oils for antioxidant benefits and macadamia to moisturise; actives to help protect and stimulate stem cells, stimulate cell renewal, repair the epidermis and detoxify skin.
It also uses a combination of essential oils to activate olfactory senses to balance the nervous system, promoting deeper and better quality of sleep and enhanced repair.
IT HAS A PROFOUND IMPACT ON HEALTH
Getting enough sleep affects your health in ways you cannot imagine, says internationally acclaimed Australian nutritional biochemist Dr Libby Weaver, described by actor Hugh Jackman as a “one stop shop for wellbeing”.
Typically sleep problems fall into two categories: trouble getting to sleep and trouble staying asleep.
We’ve all been there at some point – eyes wide awake, trying not to look at the alarm clock for confirmation that yes, despite trying every imaginable strategy – it is 3am and you’re still awake.
The consequences of this lack of sleep add to the already compounding worry, as the thought of another day at work, feeling less than refreshed circulates.
Sleep, like moving your body regularly and eating a nourishing diet, form the pillars of good health. We cannot fight our biology – sleep is essential to our very being.
Lack of sleep can increase inflammation, which in turn is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and poor digestive health. Not to mention what it does to your mood and appetite (hello, 10am pastry and 3pm coffee and chocolate bar!).
A morning ritual such as meditation or yoga that reduces your stress can be extremely beneficial – this can also be repeated before sleep.
Move your body earlier in the day and avoid at night if possible. Movement typically activates the sympathetic nervous system making you alert and awake and subsequently decreasing your melatonin (sleep hormone) production.
In the evening, allow yourself time to slow down, unwind and stimulate your sleep neurotransmitters.
Around 60 to 90 minutes before sleep, turn off your “devices”, turn the lights down and maybe include some meditation or light reading. Finding sleep hygiene that works for you is incredibly important but these are great starting points for everyone.
If you drink caffeine, find your threshold for the time you should stop drinking it. Typically this is around midday as caffeine can stay in the body for around eight hours.
Eating a heavy and rich meal late at night takes longer to digest, so your body is busy with the digestive process and indigestion rather than relaxing and helping you get to sleep. Eat smaller portions.
TV screens, laptops and electronic devices not only keep your mind active but also emit light that disrupts sleep hormone production. If you watch TV consider what you’re watching. For example, if you’re watching highly stimulating crime dramas it is very difficult to switch from this sympathetic nervous system stimulation to the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest and repair.
Your biology has primed you to “fight or flight” and then after you’ve turned the TV off, you’re asking it to just forget what it has seen/experienced and drift peacefully off to sleep.
For many of us that’s not going to happen! If you’re a crime or intense drama show addict, I encourage you to go four weeks without watching them, particularly at night and see what happens to your sleep.
If you wake during the night, consider:
- Alcohol typically makes you feel sleepy at first, which is why people often use it to help them get off to sleep. But it tends to result in waking later in the night, typically around 2-3am – resulting in disrupted sleep, as it stops you going into REM sleep, the deepest stage. Limiting alcohol consumption is beneficial for overall health not just for your sleep.
- Planning your day before you go to bed so you don’t wake at 3am thinking about something you forgot to schedule in your diary.
- Keeping a pen and paper by your bed, if you wake with a thought you can write it down and then address it in the morning.
- There are many herbs that support good sleep such as valerian, passionflower and chamomile. However, I encourage people to discuss sleep issues with a qualified medical herbalist to find a solution that works for them.
IT PROMOTES PRODUCTION OF VITAL GROWTH HORMONE
As sleep, 85 percent of our growth hormone is produced, which is why good sleep if fundamental to good health, says Debbie Dickson*, founder at Regul8 and head of education, research and development at DMK Australia and New Zealand.
Cortisol depletes growth hormone and breaks down muscle mass. To assist with this, I recommended Relax – a herbal supplement that assists to normalise cortisol, increase serotonin and dopamine (your happy feelgood hormones) along with GABA.
GABA is a naturally occurring brain chemical, a neurotransmitter that sends nerve signals to target cells it has a calming effect, think of it like the breaking system.
I also get skin clients on the DMK EFA Ultra. This is an essential fatty acid supplement it also has every vitamin, mineral and amino acids as well as omega 3, 6, 9 and 7, amazing for skin, hair and nails.
*Debbie is a Chinese herbalist, integrative wellness practitioner and dermal lecturer with over 20 years’ industry experience. She has lectured on dermal science and integrated wellness from a cosmetic and beauty perspective for 11 years. Debbie, who with husband Daniel distributes DMK paramedical skin products and protocols in Australia and New Zealand, was appointed head of education for DMK in 1998 and also contributes heavily to the research and development of the brand.