Here’s the Single Best Way to Stall Aging

It happens to everybody, and there’s no cure. Americans spend millions of dollars trying to avoid or delay it, but many efforts are in vain. Aging is simply a universal fact of life.

However, one of the best ways to keep the side effects of aging at bay may be something anyone can do, for free: get better sleep. The more we learn about rest and biology, the clearer it is that sleep plays an important role in keeping skin, bodies and minds young. In fact, it may be one of the most effective things you can do.

The Real Fountain of Youth?

The last time you stayed up too late, did you notice any difference in the mirror? For many people, tired eyes and sallow skin are an unwelcome and unavoidable side effect of too little rest.

For eons, humans have been in search of potions and pills to halt the inevitable, delivering youthful radiance and eternal health. While no such cure has been revealed thus far, getting the right amount of quality sleep may be your best bet. It’s more than just anecdotal, though; science actually backs up the idea of beauty rest.

Faster Recovery and Higher Self-Esteem

Researchers from the University Hospitals Case Medical Center published a study in January of this year sponsored by skincare company Estee Lauder. In this study, they found poor sleepers showed increased signs of skin aging on a standardized scoring system. Better sleepers, on the other hand, exhibited faster recovery from ultraviolet radiation exposure and to skin barrier stress, had healthy body weights and had a higher opinion of their own appearance.

Look Better and Appear More Attractive

Revealing similar results, a Swedish study asked participants to rate several photographs on fatigue, facial cues and sadness, using images of people taken both in the afternoon and after 31 hours of being awake. The tired photos were rated as having redder, puffy eyes with darker circles, paler skin, and more severe wrinkles. The sleepy photos also appeared to be sadder and more fatigued, meaning being sleep deprived might affect how people perceive your attractiveness and your mood.

Stay Youthful

The notion was also put to the test with sleep apnea patients, a condition which disrupts rest and often leaves people sleep deprived. They performed photogrammetry and had people rate their photos before treatment and two months post-treatment. After treatment with positive airway pressure (CPAP), people were rated as more youthful, alert and attractive. The photogrammetry tests showed less facial redness and improved facial volume, providing objective results as well.

Protect Your DNA and Cells

DNA damage and the body’s ability to keep cells healthy both appear to be influenced by sleep deprivation, and are key factors in many age-related health conditions. One study of older adults found that just one night of partial sleep deprivation signs of cell damage and biological aging. Another study published this summer found that just one night of sleep deprivation can alter DNA and cause changes to the way genes are expressed, echoing previous researchers’ findings that over 700 genes were impacted by sleep loss.

Maintain a Healthier Body Weight

A growing body of evidence also suggests that sleep plays an important role in maintaining a healthy weight, via several different pathways. Sleep deprivation affects metabolism and hunger hormones, triggering cravings for less healthy foods and suppressing our ability to feel sated. Over time, it places people at higher risk for diabetes, a contributing factor to weight gain. Fatigue also makes it harder to give it your all in a workout, meaning less calories burned. All together, it’s no wonder that sleep deprivation has been linked with higher risk of obesity.

Keep Your Mind Sharp

While all the mechanisms behind sleep aren’t yet known, we do know that rest plays a critical role in brain health, influencing everything from learning to memory to mood and even potential Alzheimer disease risk.

A 2015 study of older male adults found that those with more cognitive impairment were more likely to report poor sleep quality, suggesting that worse sleep in middle age could be warning sign to be aware of. Sleep is also believed to have a protective effect on memories as people age.

Reaping the Benefits of Beauty Sleep

Sleeping well gives your skin time to hydrate and renew, it allows your body to clear out the waste products that contribute to under-eye circles and water retention, and just generally supports better health — something that looks great on everybody.

Optimize your sleep routine for better health and better looks by following good sleep hygiene habits and paying attention to your skin.

Stay consistent. Sleeping and waking at the same time every day lets your body know what to expect, and supports healthy circadian rhythms. Some evidence shows it may support healthy body weight as well. Try to stick to the same bedtime and especially the same wake time even on the weekends, not varying by than an hour.

Get enough rest. The average adult needs somewhere between seven and nine hours to feel and look their best. Experiment with different times until you find what works best for you, but aim for a minimum of seven hours (asleep, not just in bed).

Cut the lights. The hormone that induces drowsiness, melatonin, is released in the evening as it gets dark. Leaving bright indoor lights, televisions, computers, smartphones and tablets on late into the night might impair this process and keep you up later than intended.

Cleanse and moisturize. During sleep, skin is busy repairing and renewing and it’s also a great time to let skincare products do their work without interruption. Always wash your face, remove any makeup and apply a good moisturizer as part of your pre-bed routine to keep your skin looking fresh and healthy in the morning. Creams with vitamins C and A, retinoids and hyaluronic acid are often recommended as nighttime powerhouses.

Sleep on your back. One group of plastic surgeons noted in a research paper that they observed consistent “sleep lines” on patients that slept on their stomachs, as the pillows would place pressure on facial skin. If you are a committed side sleeper, try switching the side you sleep on and use a pillowcase with soft fabric.

Seek treatment for sleep disorders. If you notice signs of potential issues such as waking not feeling refreshed, multiple awakenings or excessive daytime tiredness, bring it up with your doctor. Things like sleep apnea can have serious side effects, including premature cardiovascular aging.

Do you notice a difference in your appearance when tired versus well-rested? Have any essential pre-bed sleep habits to wake of looking your best? Share your beauty sleep tips in the comments.

Firas Kittaneh is the CEO of Amerisleep, an eco-friendly luxury mattress company. Firas writes more posts on the Amerisleep blog about getting better sleep, healthy living and being eco-friendly. Follow him on Twitter.