03/30/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Beauty Sleep: A Dream Come True!

Sleep: The Rejuvenation Hours

Are you missing the opportunity to give your skin an eight-hour intensive rejuvenating experience -- every day? If you are one of the more than 47 million American adults that get less than eight hours of sleep per night, the answer is yes! This blog is inspired by Arianna Huffington and Cindi Leive's own blog on Sleep Challenge 2010, in which they raise the alarm about women suffering from serious sleep deprivation. I am a firm believer in the proverbial good night's sleep because as a dermatologist, I know that sleep deprivation has very definite physical, mental and emotional consequences -- and they are not pretty.

As is often the case, many well-worn sayings and expressions have a firm basis in the truth. "Beauty sleep" is just such an example if you long for the soft, glowing and radiant complexions that grace stars such as Cate Blanchett, Eva Mendes, Halle Berry, Liv Tyler, or Catherine Zeta-Jones. It is during the precious hours of sleep that our cells rejuvenate, repairing the damage of the previous day. In fact, one of the best kept anti-aging secrets is a good night's sleep. In addition to steering clear of sugary, starchy foods and beverages, a good night's sleep is one of the best friends a glowing, youthful complexion can have. Adequate sleep will restore luminosity to the skin while improving tone and texture. And, after a good night's sleep, doesn't the world look better, too? A glance in the mirror shows that after a restful sleep, your face has fewer lines than normal. Eye area puffiness is decreased, and you have that certain glow that only comes with good health.

Getting sufficient sleep is critical to the healthy-aging regimen, because, as mentioned, our cells undergo a process of repair. In addition, when we look at the hormone parameters during sleep, we find that growth hormone is released during sleep -- and growth hormone is the youth hormone.

Sleep also turns down the negative effects of cortisol and the "bad" neurotransmitters, like epinephrine and norepinephrine that can be elevated during stress. During the waking hours, stress can play havoc with our skin; it is only during the hours of sleep that we can undue the harmful effects.

A good night's sleep also enhances cognitive ability. The day after a good night's sleep, you undoubtedly find that you think, problem-solve, and remember far better than you do after a night with inadequate sleep. During the sleep cycle, your body releases a hormone called melatonin, which has positive effects on your skin and your immune system. Melatonin is an important hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain while we sleep. It regulates our circadian rhythms (the body's internal clock). It is implicated in the regulation of sleep, mood, puberty, and ovarian cycles. Many scientists believe that melatonin helps suppress estrogen levels, a causative factor in many cases of breast cancer. According to a fascinating research study that took place in Japan, woman who regularly had six hours' sleep or less every night were 62 percent more likely to have breast cancer compared to those who slept seven hours.

Don't Set 'em Up Joe

Since sleep is so important to healthy aging, it is essential that we do whatever we can to enhance the sleep experience. A few alcoholic beverages in the evening may initially make us drowsy, but scientists know that after inducing initial drowsiness, alcohol precipitates a burst of norepinephrine in the system. Norepinephrine is one of the hormones that increase as a result of excitement or stress, and is what can cause us to wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. in the morning after ingesting alcohol the previous evening. Hours after taking a drink, a burst of norepinephrine occurs, resulting in a return to consciousness. It is also important to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, because it too, may interfere with your sleep patterns. In addition, before going to bed you should avoid any food that will cause a rapid rise in your blood sugar, as it will interfere with growth hormone production, robbing you of this essential anti-aging hormone. Exercise is sleep-inducing, but do your exercise at least four hours before bedtime.

Sleep -- creating beauty from the inside out

Newer research is also proving that getting just a few more minutes of sleep in the morning can actually lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This is a significant finding because elevated levels of cortisol will accelerate the aging process.

Hitting the Snooze Button for Lower Cortisol Levels

A fascinating study conducted by researchers at London's Westminster University, found a physiological difference between people who wake early and those who wake later. The study looked at levels of cortisol, the body's main stress hormone, and discovered that the levels varied, depending upon our rising times.

As we know, cortisol is a stress hormone, whose levels are controlled by the brain. Cortisol is essential for maintaining homeostasis during acute forms of stress, like fear, physical trauma and extreme physical exertion. But a problem arises when cortisol is present for long periods of time and in excess quantities.

High levels of cortisol will:

• Increase body fat
• Thin the skin
• Cause depression of the immune system
• Elevate blood sugar
• Cause bone loss
• Toxic to brain cells
• Cause mental depression

The study examined cortisol levels in 42 healthy individuals at waking times that ranged from 5:22 a.m. to 10:37 a.m. over a two-day period. People who woke earlier tended to have higher concentrations of cortisol during the first 45 minutes of their day. This doesn't mean we need to sleep until 11 AM, just 20 or 30 minutes more sleep in the morning will have the desired effect. Ironically, the cortisol levels do not appear to be affected by how much sleep we get, just by the hour that we awake. However, that is no excuse to try and get by on six or seven hours -- I recommend 8 hours per night for optimum physical and mental health and radiant glowing skin.

As an active researcher I welcome your comments and suggestions.