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How Sleep Affects Acne

People often wonder, does lack of sleep cause acne? Does more sleep help acne? Researchers have extensively studied the relationship between sleep and acne and have found that they do affect each other. How they affect each other, however, is less clear.

Although the relationship between sleep and acne isn’t certain, many researchers hypothesize that improving sleep will improve skin issues, including acne. It’s likely that improving one’s sleep environment could also have a positive impact on skin. This article focuses on sleep and acne, and outlines ways to improve sleep in hopes of clearing up skin.

Can Poor Sleep Cause Acne?

Sleep Loss and Skin Health

Scientific research shows a link between sleep and skin health. Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality are related to:

  • Acne
  • Skin aging
  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema
  • Skin cancer

The relationship between sleep and acne is correlational, which means there’s a connection between the two, but researchers don’t know how that connection works. While it seems intuitive that a lack of sleep causes acne, there might be more to it than that. There’s evidence that acne causes less sleep, and it’s possible that another factor causes both sleep troubles and acne.

Researchers reviewed hundreds of acne-related studies and concluded that a variety of factors influence whether or not a person has acne. These factors include diet, medications, sleep, stress levels, skin products, pollution exposure, and anything that touches skin. While sleep is not the only factor influencing whether or not a person has acne, it is connected. Prioritizing good sleep and a healthy sleep environment may help reduce acne.

While studying sleep and acne, researchers have found that:

Sleep is also tied to signs of skin aging. In one study, researchers compared women who sleep five or less hours per night with women who sleep seven to nine hours per night. Women who sleep more have less severe under-eye circles, their skin rebuilds itself more quickly after being damaged, and their skin recovers more quickly after UV exposure.

Even one or two nights of sleep deprivation can alter a person’s appearance, including how their skin looks, which is why people can “look tired.” Sleep deprivation may lead to eyelids that ‘hang’, puffy eyes, deeper under-eye circles, sickly skin, more wrinkles, and droopy corners of the mouth.

Sleep and psoriasis, a condition that involves dry, scaly skin, are also connected. Research suggests that sleep loss increases inflammation, which can trigger or increase the presence of psoriasis. Obstructive sleep apnea patients are four times more likely to develop psoriasis than people who do not have the sleep disorder.

Psoriasis is also related to other sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome and insomnia. Psoriasis and sleep disorders likely have a bidirectional relationship, meaning the presence of either issue is likely to increase the severity of the other.

Sleep disorders are associated with other skin issues as well. One study found a connection between obstructive sleep apnea and skin cancer. Multiple studies have demonstrated a relationship between sleep troubles and eczema. The nature of that relationship isn’t certain, though it is likely bidirectional. The itchiness of eczema can keep people from sleeping well, and poor sleep can increase the severity of eczema.

Sleep Environment and Acne

Since many factors contribute to acne, it’s important to take a multi-pronged approach when trying to treat or prevent it. The following sleep environment factors are areas worth examining and potentially changing when dealing with acne:

  • Bedding
  • Hygiene and products
  • Air quality
  • Nighttime stressors

Acne mechanica is a type of acne that results from something rubbing or touching the skin. Although there are not detailed studies on causes of acne mechanica, it is known that different things trigger it in different people. One possible cause of acne mechanica is scratchy bedding.

If you have acne and your pillow case feels like it’s on the rough side, consider switching to softer bedding. The softest pillowcases are those made of bamboo blends, high-thread count cotton, or silk.

Science hasn’t declared which pillow cases are best for acne-prone skin, but many people believe certain fabrics are better than others. Trying out multiple types of fabrics and seeing how your skin responds is one option. Natural fabrics and those that are more breathable could be better if they result in less sweating and oil collection.

Cleaning bedding every few days is another strategy for reducing acne. Oil plays a role in acne production. If your pillow case collects oil during the night, it’s possible that sleeping on it without washing it often will contribute to more acne. Since soaps and other products applied to the face can trigger acne, attention should also be paid to the laundry detergent used to wash bedding. Some detergents might irritate a person’s skin more than others.

Face washing twice a day can help reduce acne, so it should be a part of your nightly routine if acne is a problem for you. Washing the face removes cosmetics along with dirt and oil that have accumulated during the day and can clog pores. Some cosmetics and other facial products can trigger acne in people with more sensitive skin.

Researchers recommend using face wash with a 5.5 pH and non-comedogenic cosmetics. Researchers haven’t designated a single brand as being ideal for acne-prone skin, so individuals with acne might need to determine which products work best for them via a process of trial and error.

Multiple studies show that pollution contributes to acne. This pollution can range from high ozone levels to second-hand cigarette smoke. Although people cannot control the air quality everywhere they go, it is fairly easy to improve the air quality of your sleep environment. By using a high-quality air purifier or having plants in your bedroom, your nighttime air quality will improve, eliminating one acne-causing factor.

Finally, removing stressors from your sleep environment could potentially improve sleep and reduce acne, since stress is a factor that affects both. Creating an ideal sleep environment might include purchasing the most comfortable mattress for you, blocking out light, and blocking out sounds.

How to Improve Your Sleep to Treat Acne

Although the relationship between sleep and acne is not entirely clear, increasing the duration of your sleep (if you do not sleep enough) and improving your quality of sleep will only positively benefit you. There are multiple actions you can take to improve your sleep and, as a result, potentially improve your skin:

  • Identify and treat any sleep disorders
  • Develop a healthy circadian rhythm
  • Reduce stress
  • Block out distractions

If sleeping is difficult, consider seeing a sleep specialist to check if you have a sleep disorder. As mentioned earlier, sleep disorders often overlap with skin problems. Common sleep disorders that interfere with a person’s ability to get a good night’s sleep include insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and more.

If a sleep disorder is found, treating it should help improve sleep. Insomnia is often treated with drug therapies and cognitive behavioral therapy. Many people also try alternative treatments such as CBD oil, hypnosis, melatonin, and teas. Sleep apnea is generally treated with the use of a CPAP or BiPAP machine. Mouth guards can help with bruxism, or teeth grinding.

If sleep is difficult for you even though you do not suffer from any sleep disorders, it could be that your circadian rhythm is thrown off. Our circadian systems signal when we should feel tired and awake. Modern life is full of electric lighting, blue light-emitting devices, and stressors that can negatively affect circadian rhythms.

There are multiple ways a person can develop a healthy circadian rhythm:

  • Set an alarm and wake up at the same time every day
  • Develop a bedtime routine and engage in it every night at the same time
  • Avoid bright lights and electronic devices in the hour before bedtime
  • Use blue light-blocking glasses, especially in the evening
  • Use light therapy each morning if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • Eat meals and exercise at the same time every day

Reducing stress can reduce the impact of sleep disorders and help create a healthy circadian rhythm. Stress is associated with insomnia, sleep disorders, and teeth grinding. Also, multiple anxiety disorders have a negative effect on sleep, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic disorder. Treating any clinical levels of anxiety, whether through medication or therapy, can help improve sleep.

The following actions can also help improve sleep in people experiencing stress or anxiety:

  • Avoiding or limiting caffeine, especially in the evening
  • Only doing low-energy activities in the hours before bed
  • Releasing worries in a journal
  • Tracking sleep to identify patterns
  • Engaging in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Sometimes people who do not have disordered sleep, circadian rhythm problems, or increased stress still have trouble sleeping because of interruptions coming from the outside world. These can be addressed by:

Final Thoughts

A multitude of studies demonstrate that there is a connection between skin issues such as acne, and sleep loss. Although the relationship between sleep problems and acne isn’t fully understood, improving sleep duration and quality could potentially improve skin, as well.

There are many ways to improve sleep quality, such as identifying and treating sleep disorders, cultivating a healthy circadian rhythm, reducing stress, and creating an ideal sleep environment.

It is likely that the sleep environment itself also has an impact on skin quality. Nighttime skincare routines, bedding, air quality, and the presence or absence of stressors might also affect whether or not a person has acne. Although these factors haven’t been studied in-depth, people suffering from acne might consider taking a trial and error approach to finding the best face products and bedding for their skin.

Air quality can be improved by adding plants to your sleep space or through the use of air purifiers, and sleep interrupters such as noise and light can be blocked with earplugs and eye masks.

Every body operates differently, and there is no single cause of either acne or sleep issues. The best approach to both acne and sleep issues is to try different possible solutions and track their effectiveness.

Additional Tuck Resources

People suffering from acne and sleep issues might also be interested in these articles:

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