Puns aside, sleep and beauty are inextricably linked in fairy tales and real life.
The amount and quality of sleep we get each night affects more than our mood and health, it also affects our appearance. “Everybody knows someone who doesn’t sleep well, based on how they look,” says Scottsdale, Arizona-based sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD, author of many books including Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep.
Don’t think people notice? Think again. Researchers from the Medical Institutet Karolinska in Stockholm, Sweden, report that when we are sleep deprived, we actually repel people who we meet.
The tell-tale signs of sleep loss on our appearance are:
• Puffy eyes
• Dark raccoon-like circles underneath your eyes
• Ashen skin tone
• Weight gain
Puffy eyes and dark under-eye circles are not necessarily caused by lack of good quality sleep, but they are certainly made worse by it. “If your mom or grandmother had puffy eyes, you may have them too,” he says. “Families can have a genetic propensity for fat around eye the sockets, but the more sleep deprived you are, the more likely you will hold onto fluid under the eyes, which makes puffiness worse.”
Dark circles too may run in families. “People with darker skin types are more prone to raccoon eyes,” he says. “This is also a place where blood pools when you are sleep deprived.”
And sleep loss can be hard on our waistlines and make it easier to gain weight, Breus says. “When you are sleep deprived, you have more ghrelin, the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat,” he says. You also have less leptin, the hormone that tells you to stop eating.
More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain. “You are also reaching for cookies, cakes and pies, and other not-quite-healthy choices,” he says. When you are tired, you also are less likely to exercise and do other things that you know are good for you.
Don’t want to be a sleepless beauty anymore? There’s lots you can do to get a better night’s sleep, including:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Turn your bedroom into a cave. (Make sure it’s quiet, dark and cool.)
Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only.
Cut off all caffeine by 2 PM.
No more night caps. Avoid alcohol for the two or three hours before bed.
Exercise daily. If your fitness routine gets you too riled up, do it at least four hours before bed, says Breus. The latest results of the National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 Sleep in America® poll show that people who exercise sleep better than those who don’t.
Have your time in the sun. Aim for 15 minutes of sunlight each day this helps regulate your body’s internal clock.
Relax with a warm bath or another calming ritual before bed.
Avoid anything stressful before bed. This includes paying bills, texting with a frenemy, or looking up an ex on Facebook.
Skip the melatonin unless you have jet lag.
There is much ado about the sleep-enhancing benefits of melatonin, but this supplement has a role in treating jet lag and circadian rhythm disorders only, Breus says. “It is not a sleep initiator, it is a sleep regulator.”
Choose your bedtime snack wisely.
A glass of warm milk or a cup of Sleepy Time or chamomile tea may help you relax before bed and that’s a good thing, says Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., M.P.H, a sleep researcher and neurology instructor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Bedtime snacks to avoid include chocolate—which can be loaded with caffeine—and fatty or spicy foods that can cause sleep-stealing heartburn. “Have a small snack before bed so you don’t go to sleep hungry, but try not to eat a heavy meal too close to bed,” she says. Don’t overdo it on the milk or tea either or you will be running to the bathroom all night.
Know when to see your doctor.
“If you are having trouble sleeping for a couple of weeks and it is affecting your quality of life, see a sleep specialist or discuss your concerns with your doctor to see if you have a sleep disorder,” Baron says. All the warm milk in the world can’t cure a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea.