Lessons In Sleep

Why our bodies (and complexions) need it and how to get more.

Written By FIORELLA VALDESOLO
Photography By GUY AROCH
We may spend one-third of our lives sleeping, but, for many of us, even far into adulthood, it’s a skill that we have yet to master. And the stakes for mastering it are higher than ever: not getting enough sleep can have effects both immediate (stress spikes, cognitive function dips, not to mention dark circles and dull skin) and long-standing (recent studies have found that sleep deprivation can lead to a build-up of a metabolic waste product in brain cells linked to the development of Alzheimer’s). “The holy grail of feeling good is a great night’s sleep, but so many of us are struggling to get enough of it,” says Jules Miller of The Nue Co., who adds that the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates show that more than one-third of Americans aren’t just tired, they’re actually sleep deprived. Here, a sleep specialist, two pioneering beauty brand founders, and one of our favorite skin whisperers share their sleep wisdom.

SLEEP BY NUMBERS

“All sleep is beauty sleep,” declares esthetician extraordinaire Joanna Czech. And it’s true that little we do for our overall health, mental acuity, and appearance is more important. “During restorative sleep our blood pressure drops and breathing slows allowing blood to flow to our muscles, repairing tissue,” explains Miller. The hormones we secrete during shut-eye are critical for cell repair and regeneration, and our brain’s waste removal department (aka, the glymphatic system) does most of its toxin-clearing while we sleep. “A bad night’s sleep can also cause an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, which, at continually high levels, can cause inflammation in the body,” adds Miller. “Long term, cortisol can have a huge impact on your skin causing breakouts, poor texture, and fine lines through a decrease in collagen.” So, what exactly comprises a good night’s sleep? Most doctors agree that the average person needs seven and a half to eight hours to function optimally, but, as Janet Kennedy, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, points out, there really is no universal magic number; what we each need is unique. “It’s best to establish good habits and prioritize sleep, then keep track of your sleep for a few weeks and see what your body needs,” she says. “If you have a consistent sleep schedule and are feeling reasonably well-rested most of the time without resorting to tons of caffeine, long naps, or other artificial means of staying awake or falling asleep, you’re probably getting enough sleep for your body’s needs.”

SLEEP AIDS

For those who find achieving a solid night’s rest to be a challenge, there are myriad ingredients and lifestyle tweaks that can help. Sleep Drops, the Nue Co.’s new sleep aid with no next-day effects, stars valerian root, a centuries-old sleep aid (in tea form, it’s notoriously stinky), plus catnip, passion flower, and chamomile. “Valerian helps to gently depress your central nervous system, setting you up for sleep,” says Miller. “We also included catnip and passion flower, both of which reduce anxiety, and chamomile to calm.” Magnesium is often name-checked as a favorite ingredient for an evening soak; while it’s not actually sedating it does relax the muscles and instill a sense of calm, two very good things come bedtime. Melatonin, a hormone that all our brains produce to regulate sleep, is another popular sleep aid, though, says Kennedy, it should be used judiciously, never repetitively. “The body gets used to it, so it loses its effectiveness as a sleep aid after a few days, and I have seen many clients who have persistent waking that seems to be related to taking daily melatonin,” she adds. Then there’s CBD, whose benefits, particularly as marijuana laws continue to loosen, have been widely extolled, and sleep is no exception. “When ingested, CBD acts as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic, provides pain relief, mood stabilization, relief from anxiety, and promotes a calm sense of well-being,” says Cindy Capobianco, founder of Lord Jones. She reports that customers are using their new tincture an hour before bed to help them relax and sleep through the night, and sometimes throughout the day to manage anxiety. And don’t skip out on your nighttime skincare routine, which is even more important than what you do in the daylight hours. “During this regeneration time the skin has a much greater ability to absorb products,” explains Czech.

SLEEP SPACE

When it comes to sleep, your environment matters. On the ideal bedroom checklist: a comfortable and clean mattress, pillow, and bedding; darkness (“Even with the eyes closed, the body responds to light by suppressing melatonin which can affect sleep quality and duration,” says Kennedy); a cool temperature (about 68–72 degrees); and no tech in sight. “Bringing tech into the bedroom invites the stress of the day to encroach on your night,” Kennedy adds. “We need to put into place better boundaries with technology so our brains and bodies have a chance to settle down before bed.” Miller avoids all screens an hour before bed and Kennedy is a fan of setting a strict work cutoff time. A short meditation or that aforementioned magnesium bath can be helpful in triggering sleepiness, but if neither feels doable, Kennedy suggests picking up a book. “Simply reading (preferably fiction, preferably on paper) is a great way to wrap up the bedtime routine,” she explains. “It gives the mind a place to go—away from the stress of daily life—while the body takes over with its natural fatigue.”