Dr Libby: What Happens When You Don’t Have Enough ‘Beauty Sleep’?

By Dr Libby Weaver
Collage / Julia Gessler

In this special series, guest writer Dr Libby Weaver shares her health insights.

We’ve all experienced the ravages of sleep deprivation: puffy eyes, sallow skin and a lacklustre complexion. These are not just figments of our imagination but the tangible results of inadequate rest. “Beauty sleep” isn’t an idle notion,

Beyond what shows up on the outside, insufficient sleep can significantly complicate our daily lives. It has a noticeable impact on our emotional state, self-perception, life satisfaction, and even our dietary choices (cue the indulgent morning muffin, midday coffee, and late-afternoon chocolate biscuit frenzy). Furthermore, it can affect our interactions with our loved ones, making communication more challenging.

Our biology dictates that sleep is an essential aspect of our wellbeing. Achieving a consistent 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night can be transformative, boosting our energy levels and overall vitality. In fact, improving the quality of your sleep will significantly enhance all aspects of your health and your external glow. This is because sleep is not merely a passive state of unconsciousness, but a dynamic process orchestrated by the brain to enable your body to recover from the events of your day.

It unfolds in several distinct stages, with each cycle typically lasting around 90 minutes and repeating multiple times throughout the night.

How does sleep work?

The initial stage of sleep is a twilight zone, a transitional period from wakefulness to slumber, during which we can be easily awakened. As we progress deeper into sleep, our bodies enter the realm of non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, often referred to as deep sleep, divided into three stages. It is during these phases that our bodies undergo crucial restoration and repair processes, mending the wear and tear of the day. The grand finale of each sleep cycle is REM sleep, aptly named for the rapid movements of our eyes beneath closed lids. During this stage, our brains are most active, resembling the wakeful state in terms of neural activity.

REM sleep is crucial for cognitive functions such as memory consolidation and learning. Central to this sleep-wake cycle is the hormone melatonin, often referred to as the “sleep hormone.” It is produced by the pineal gland in our brains and is sensitive to light. As the evening descends and darkness prevails, melatonin levels rise, signalling to our bodies that it’s time to rest. This hormone orchestrates the harmonious dance of sleep stages, ensuring that we progress through the cycles efficiently.

During deep sleep, our bodies release growth hormone, which aids in the repair and regeneration of cells. Collagen, the protein responsible for maintaining the elasticity and suppleness of our skin, is also produced in greater quantities while we slumber. This means that skipping out on sleep could potentially accelerate the visible signs of ageing. Moreover, the nocturnal hours serve as a stage for enhanced detoxification. While we sleep, our bodies are busy prioritising the detoxification of problematic substances that have entered during the day, preparing them for elimination, promoting a healthier, radiant appearance. Blood flow to the skin increases, providing a natural flush and a rosier complexion.

During quality sleep, a part of our nervous system responsible for rest and repair (also known as the parasympathetic nervous system) takes charge. Sleep is critical for skin regeneration, immunity, hair growth, nail growth and all other non-vital processes the body will not prioritise during the day, particularly when under constant stress.

What happens if you’re not sleeping?

A long-term lack of sleep can promote an increase in inflammatory processes, elevating the risk of developing conditions like type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and digestive issues. It can also disrupt the signalling of appetite-regulating hormones — leptin and ghrelin, leading us to overeat. Additionally, it adds an extra layer of stress to our bodies since they don’t have adequate time for repair and restoration.

Beyond the physical realm, the impact of sleep extends to our mental wellbeing. Sleep deprivation can impair cognitive function, hinder creativity and lead to mood disturbances. It’s no surprise that consistent restful sleep is often touted as a remedy for stress and anxiety.

In our modern, fast-paced lives, achieving quality sleep can be challenging. The seductive glow of screens and the constant demands of work and social life can encroach upon our sleep hours, unless we put measures in place to protect it. For many of us the first time we put our head on the pillow may be the first time that day we feel we have truly stopped. It is vital you schedule yourself maximum sleep time if you want to enjoy the countless beauty, restorative and health-enhancing benefits it has to offer. Yet, duration of sleep is only one aspect — the quality of your sleep matters just as much.

How can you encourage good sleep?

Protecting melatonin production is vital to a restful night’s sleep. Avoid caffeine after midday and backlit devices for two hours before bed if restorative sleep is elusive. Often we need to help calm the nervous system down to ensure the body feels safe enough to drop into a deep sleep so a nighttime ritual that includes soothing activities like breathwork, meditation, gentle stretches, reading or soaking in a warm bath can benefit. Try to switch off your notifications and stop checking emails a few hours before bed too; avoid anything that might get you fired up when you want to be winding down.

While some may notice that alcohol puts them to sleep, studies indicate that it interferes with vital REM sleep, and it can lead to wakeful periods through the night. There are some efficacious, medicinal herbs that soothe the nervous system, which can help foster a better sleep, including lemon balm, magnolia and ziziphus.

If you have little people who need you through the night, keep in mind that this is a relatively short season of their lives and it won’t be like this forever. Letting go of what we can’t change right now is equally as important as changing what we can.

Dr Libby Weaver. Photo / Supplied
Dr Libby Weaver. Photo / Supplied

Dr Libby Weaver PhD is a nutritional biochemist, 13 times best-selling author and international keynote speaker. To learn more about how to foster restorative sleep visit Drlibby.com

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