As a new mom, I remember looking in the mirror after countless nights of feedings, followed by days of trying to remember what day it actually was, and thinking, Oh my gosh, I need a facial... or a Gatorade...or both. But I wasn’t really taking into account that the main culprit of my dull, sallow skin wasn’t dehydration, but lack of sleep. Partly because I was sleeping — it just wasn’t straight-through, uninterrupted, I-don’t-have-a-care-in-the-world kind of sleep. It was I-have-a-new-human-to-feed-and-keep-alive kind of sleep — the very interrupted kind.
Of course, the cost of poor sleep is more than just a sallow complexion. Diminished sleep weakens concentration, memory, emotional resilience, and your immune system. New parents, particularly mothers, have been taught to think they must push through and function on much less sleep than they need, that we have to do it all. “Here’s the issue: Parents have bought into a big lie, which is that the normal family is a couple of parents and a child — which is actually the most abnormal family that ever existed,” explains Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician, child development expert, and inventor of the SNOO. “The only ‘normal’ family is a couple of parents, a child, four grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and your neighbors next door, because it really used to be the village that was raising the baby.” In other words, the village used to help you get sleep.
Recently, I got to chat more about this topic with Dr. Karp and Alicia Yoon, esthetician, mother, and founder/CEO of Peach & Lily. The three of us had a candid conversation diving into the direct effect sleep has on your skin. And while I previously knew how closely correlated sleep and the health of your skin are, I definitely learned a few new things.
Ahead, find more on that connection and some actionable tips you can apply to your own routine to get better sleep (and skin).
How does sleep actually affect your skin?
“Sleep influences your skin in such a big way actually,” says Alicia Yoon. “A lot of the stress hormone cortisol is released with the stress of our day and that, paired with the lack of sleep, actually starts to break down collagen.” She notes that lack of sleep also contributes to inflammation, which leads to many skin issues, like breakouts — even if you’re not someone who breaks out often. “When our bodies have inflammation, it kickstarts our hormones, where CRH [a hormone that drives the body’s response to stress] is released and it causes your sebaceous glands to produce more oil and hold onto dead skin cells,” Yoon explains. “This causes a dull, sallow-looking complexion.”
What’s more, lack of sleep also leads to dehydration, meaning your skin won’t look as plump or bouncy, “not to mention the fact that dehydration causes your melanocytes (the protective pigment in your skin) to be overprotective, which can lead to hyperpigmentation and dark spots,” Yoon notes. It doesn’t stop there: with sleep deprivation, dark circles can occur and your fibroblasts will start to produce less collagen and elastin, proving just how foundational sleep is for your skin to be the healthy organ that it wants to be.
That’s the bad news. The good news is the fix isn’t a pricey cream or laser treatment. It’s just more — and better — sleep. And the tips for getting it will help you long after your baby has learned to snooze through the night. Because one other thing I can tell you as a parent: After your children are born, you never sleep the same again.
1. Add white noise.
While some parents are so tired they fall asleep the moment their head hits the pillow, other people find they just can’t turn off their brains. In that instance, Dr. Karp recommends trying to sleep with white noise, either via an app on your phone or with a special white-noise machine. Just know that there may be some trial and error to find the exact tone that can lull your brain to sleep — in most cases, the lower, rumbly tones are easiest to fall asleep to than high-pitched static tones.
2. Do breathing exercises.
These are a fantastic way to slow down your heart rate and help you feel calm. Box breathing, for example, is a technique where you breathe in slowly as you count to four (in your head), hold that breath in for another four seconds, breathe out slowly for four seconds, and then repeat until you feel relaxed. This technique has also been clinically proven to decrease stress.
3. Listen to a meditation app.
Using a meditation app, like Headspace, before bed may help you clear your head and enter into a more restful sleep without a million thoughts racing through your mind. Initial studies have found that meditation and mindfulness can have a positive impact on sleep quality and insomnia.
4. Turn down the lights.
An hour or so before bed, turn down the lights — certain light waves trick your brain into being awake. “We used to sit around a fire and tell stories and as the fire got dimmer and dimmer, we would get more and more tired and just fall asleep,” Dr. Karp says. “Orange light actually prepares the brain for rest, while [blue light from] screens and television can actually stimulate us.” Try blue light-blocking glasses, like the ones from Dreamers.
5. Take melatonin.
If the above options still fail you, Dr. Karp suggests taking 3 milligrams of melatonin — which the brain naturally starts to produces as the lights dim — an hour before bed, if you need to help your brain get into a better rhythm of sleep. Good news: melatonin is also safe to take while breastfeeding.
6. Try a foot bath.
“In Korean culture, there are a lot of foot soaks that are useful — I mixed mugwort [powder] into hot water and put it into a foot bath,” Yoon says. “Mugwort helps to get circulation going and helps to rid the body of swelling, but it also helped me get to sleep quickly.”
7. Give yourself a massage.
To help yourself relax before bed, try giving yourself a massage. Yoon swears by this heated massager with rolling balls to help ease neck and shoulder tension from holding her baby all day. “It drapes over your neck and helps relax me overall,” she says.
8. Lean on technology.
Ok, hear me out: You may not be able to bring in your village to help you raise your baby, but there might be products that can help. In my case, that was Dr. Karp’s genius creation: the SNOO, a smart bassinet that honestly acts as the best babysitter, soothing your baby with white noise and movement that increases as their cry intensifies.
Yes, the SNOO isn’t inexpensive — it’s $1,595 if you purchase it — but you do have the option to rent it for $159 a month, which shakes out to be less than a Starbucks drink a day. And if it works to help you get more sleep, well then, consider the value of that.
9. Fake it ‘til you make it.
When it comes to skin, the best shortcut to looking well rested is hydration. One of Yoon’s go-tos are the Peach & Lily Lazy Day Pads, which deliver the benefits of a toner, essence, and moisture in one swipe. “There are 60 in there and I love them because they contain different hydrators, fatty acids and minerals,” she says.
For an instant dewy glow (even if you’ve gotten zero sleep), she swears by the Peach & Lily Glass Skin Veil Mist, which has hyaluronic acid at three different molecular weights and beta glucan, so the hydration is then locked into skin. “When your skin is not looking great, helping yourself feel better with certain products goes a long way,” she says.
Resting Mom Face is a bi-monthly column from Romper’s beauty contributor, Carly Cardellino.
Chen, Y., & Lyga, J. (2014). Brain-skin connection: stress, inflammation and skin aging. Inflammation & allergy drug targets, 13(3), 177–190.
Slominski A. (2009). On the role of the corticotropin-releasing hormone signalling system in the aetiology of inflammatory skin disorders. The British journal of dermatology, 160(2), 229–232.
Rosinger, A. Y., Chang, A. M., Buxton, O. M., Li, J., Wu, S., & Gao, X. (2019). Short sleep duration is associated with inadequate hydration: cross-cultural evidence from US and Chinese adults. Sleep, 42(2), 10.1093/sleep/zsy210.
Rusch, H. L., Rosario, M., Levison, L. M., Olivera, A., Livingston, W. S., Wu, T., & Gill, J. M. (2019). The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1445(1), 5–16.