When you sacrifice sleep for other things on your to-do list, what else are you sacrificing? As it turns out, you sacrifice many aspects of your health, as sleep is extremely important for keeping the body functioning properly.
Some studies have examined the connection between sleep deprivation and skin function, hypothesizing that lack of sleep can impair the integrity of skin. There is an important connection between sleep and skin aging.
In fact, it has been shown that chronic poor sleep quality is associated with skin aging. Intrinsic skin aging, also known as chronological aging, pertains to the aging of skin with the passage of time. Poor sleepers were found to have accelerated intrinsic aging leading to more uneven skin pigmentation, fine wrinkling, and skin laxity.
Extrinsic skin aging refers to the effects of environmental factors, including UV radiation and air pollution. Good sleepers recover faster from inflammation and damage caused by UV radiation.
The circadian rhythm is an internal time-keeping system that regulates our physiology and behavior. It affects our sleep-wake cycles, body temperature, and release of certain hormones. This “clock” is located in a part of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, as well as in nearby regions of the brain and peripheral organs.
Circadian rhythms follow a 24-hour cycle that responds to the amount of light in one’s surroundings. This internal time-keeping system contributes to sleeping patterns because the amount of ambient light is sensed by the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which in turn controls the production of the hormone melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone that affects circadian rhythms to regulate sleep, as the release of melatonin is what helps our body determine when it is our biological night. During the day, light suppresses the release of melatonin from the brain.
When our body thinks it is nighttime, melatonin is released approximately two hours before the usual sleep time. As sleep onset approaches, the hormone reaches peak levels, plateaus throughout the night, and then decreases when the night is over.
Though melatonin is naturally produced in the brain, taking a melatonin pill is a popular sleep aid that can increase total sleep time, fix jet lag, and re-balance circadian rhythms from rotating shift work. What about the effects of melatonin and the skin?
Circadian rhythm and melatonin levels have been shown to change as people age. While a circadian rhythm of melatonin release was apparent in all age groups, the nighttime peak levels of this hormone declined in older subjects.
Additionally, these older subjects also had higher daytime melatonin levels. Overall, a step-wise decrease in regulated melatonin release was observed, starting around the age of 40. In the course of a lifetime, there are two significant declines in melatonin blood levels that occur. One is during puberty, from which slight decreases continue into adulthood. The other is a decline in salivary melatonin found in people aged 60 to 72 and in more elderly people aged 80 to 93.
Other studies have shown that melatonin has a role in preserving the function of the mitochondria in our cells, which may have a beneficial effect on disorders of the brain and heart, as well as on skin aging.
Aging is a complex process that in part has to do with the mitochondria in our cells. Mitochondria produce energy to power our cells, and are one of the main sources of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are destructive by-products of cellular metabolism, and their reactive nature can result in repeated cell damage, cellular dysfunction, and even cell death.
Furthermore, oxidative damage accumulates with age. Melatonin acts as a scavenger, picking up the ROS, and as an indirect antioxidant agent, stimulating antioxidant enzymes. Melatonin can also protect the mitochondria from ROS-induced oxidative attack. All of these factors play a part in the beneficial effects of melatonin against skin aging and aging of the body.
The epidermis of the skin not only serves as a barrier from harmful organisms but also prevents water loss, regulates skin temperature, and maintains an acidic pH. The circadian rhythm may influence the human skin barrier. Skin barrier permeability is consistently higher in the evenings than in the mornings.
Body temperature also varies throughout the day, with higher skin temperatures generally occurring during the night. This association could relate to the sensation of itch, as itchy skin is usually worse in the evening when the skin temperature is higher.
An important part for skin to be an effective barrier involves the body’s ability to make melatonin to respond to external stressors. In one study, evidence suggests that melatonin can protect against ultraviolet (UV) radiation due to its ability to modulate mitochondrial reactions that lead to the production of harmful oxygen species. Topically applied, melatonin can reduce sunburns from UV radiation if administered before exposure.
Melatonin may help improve or protect against several skin diseases including eczema, psoriasis, and malignant melanoma. The protective effect of melatonin can be largely due to the antioxidant nature. Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is an inflammatory skin disorder that results from a skin barrier dysfunction, and a possible contributor is oxidative stress.
Melatonin is a treatment option that may counteract environmental and biological stressors to decrease oxidative stress and promote skin integrity. Melatonin supplementation in children with atopic dermatitis improved both sleep and their eczema.
Sleep holds an essential importance in keeping our body and skin functioning properly. Sleep deprivation may be an effect from dysfunctions in our circadian rhythm, which can affect melatonin levels.
We see an association between sleep deprivation and skin in terms of the integrity of skin function and skin aging. While research in this area continues, it seems safe to say that getting a good’s night sleep is imperative to good health and skin care.
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