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Ask an expert: Does a lack of sleep cause acne?

Getting enough beauty sleep may be essential for your skin’s health.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 5 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
young woman pretending to be sleep
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 5 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you struggle with acne, chances are you know it doesn’t take breaks. Sometimes, it even shows up overnight! If you wake up to a breakout after a night of tossing and turning, it might not be a coincidence.

It's common knowledge that adequate sleep is crucial for your overall health, but you might be wondering, does lack of sleep cause acne? Our experts looked into the relationship between sleep deprivation and pimples and came up with a few ways to treat and prevent acne that can occur after not getting enough sleep.

We’ll also explore the consequences of sleep deprivation on your skin and overall health (spoiler alert: shut-eye is important), so put on your PJs and let's get to it!

Acne and sleep: Are they really related?

If you've ever wondered if there's a connection between your late-night Netflix binges and your early-morning breakouts, you're not alone! Acne and sleep have a complicated relationship, so it's natural to assume that a lack of sleep may be behind your skin woes. 

Although it's important to note that many factors contribute to acne, including genetics, hormones, and diet, it's also worth considering the role of sleep. A lack of sleep may have consequences beyond feeling lethargic—including for the skin. Research shows that poor sleep may play a role in breakouts, although more studies are needed.¹ Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Why does lack of sleep cause acne?

Research suggests that poor sleep quality may impair the integrity of the skin,² and there is a significant relationship between the quality of sleep and the severity of acne vulgaris.³ Basically, a little extra sleep may go a long way toward clearer, healthier skin.

Inadequate sleep may contribute to acne in a few different ways—here’s how: 

  • Increase stress: It can be majorly stressful when we don't get enough sleep. When we're stressed out, our bodies produce more cortisol, a stress hormone that may lead to excessive sebum (or oil) production. This excess oil may clog pores and lead to breakouts. Additionally, research shows that stress-related production of adrenal androgens is linked to chronic acne,⁴ and increased acne severity is significantly associated with stress levels.⁵

  • Harm the skin barrier: A good night's sleep helps to repair and strengthen the skin barrier. Conversely, research shows that poor sleep quality is linked to poor skin barrier repair.⁶ This may lead to damaged skin that is more prone to acne

  • Start a negative feedback loop: Acne itself is associated with poor-quality sleep,⁷ which can, in turn, lead to more breakouts. It's a challenging cycle that can be tough to break.

If you're wondering, "Does lack of sleep cause cystic acne?" the same factors that influence typical breakouts may also play a role in this type of acne. 

Other potential consequences of sleep deprivation

Sometimes, the feeling after just one night of insufficient sleep can prove how vital it really is. In addition to potentially encouraging breakouts, sleep deprivation can have many consequences for overall health and well-being: 

  • Accelerated signs of skin aging: Chronic poor sleep quality is associated with increased signs of intrinsic aging and lower satisfaction with personal appearance.⁸ Plus, it may result in dark circles or puffiness under the eyes (aka “eye bags”).

  • Severe health problems: Lack of sleep is associated with a higher risk of developing serious medical conditions, such as diabetes mellitus, insulin resistance, hypertension, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety.⁹

Tips for acne and sleep 

A lack of sleep and increased breakouts may be linked, but methods for directly treating acne can depend on your skin type and concerns. What works for dry skin may not work for oily or combination skin, and you may want to tackle additional concerns, such as hyperpigmentation and signs of aging, with different products or ingredients.

Still, if you're struggling with breakouts and poor sleep, there are steps you can take to improve both your skin and your sleep quality. Try the following: 

  • Establish a consistent skincare routine: Our experts recommend cleansing, treating, and moisturizing skin before bed and cleansing, moisturizing, and applying broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher in the morning. This will help remove excess oil buildup and address any specific skin concerns. 

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule: A regular sleep schedule—going to bed and waking up at the same time every day—may help you sleep better.

  • Avoid consuming caffeine and alcohol around bedtime: Coffee and alcohol may negatively impact sleep.

  • Do laundry regularly: Wash bed sheets and pillowcases frequently to keep your sleep environment clean and hygienic. 

Curology can help with acne

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Although many lifestyle factors contribute to the development of acne, including lack of sleep, acne treatments can help. Curology’s offerings include our Custom Formula ℞ for acne—a personalized, prescription acne cream made with breakout-busting, clinically backed ingredients, such as tretinoin, azelaic acid, and clindamycin. You can also try our Emergency Spot Patch, a low-profile, fast-acting hydrocolloid patch that absorbs pus and oil. 

Founded in 2014 by a board-certified dermatologist, Dr. David Lortscher, MD, Curology’s mission is to offer accessible and effective skincare. Our dermatologist-designed, vegan, and cruelty-free products treat acne, signs of aging, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation.

Let us help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine. Our licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and create a custom treatment plan for you.*

Signing up is easy. Just answer a few questions and snap some selfies to help us get to know your skin better. If Curology is right for you, we'll pair you with one of our in-house medical providers to guide you on your skincare journey and answer any skincare questions you may have.

FAQs

Acne and sleep: Are they really related?

If you've ever wondered if there's a connection between your late-night Netflix binges and your early-morning breakouts, you're not alone! Acne and sleep have a complicated relationship, so it's natural to assume that a lack of sleep may be behind your skin woes. 

Why does lack of sleep cause acne?

Inadequate sleep may contribute to acne in a few different ways—here’s how: 

  • Increase stress: It can be majorly stressful when we don't get enough sleep. When we're stressed out, our bodies produce more cortisol, a stress hormone that may lead to excessive sebum (or oil) production.

  • Harm the skin barrier: A good night's sleep helps to repair and strengthen the skin barrier.

  • Start a negative feedback loop: Acne itself is associated with poor-quality sleep, which can, in turn, lead to more breakouts. It's a challenging cycle that can be tough to break.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Schrom, K.P., et al. Acne Severity and Sleep Quality in Adults. Clocks Sleep. (2019).

  2. Bilgi, A., et al. Relationship between sleep quality and facial sebum levels in women with acne vulgaris. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. (2016).

  3. Harlim, A. The Relationship between Sleep Quality and Students' Acne Vulgaris Severity at Medical Faculty Universitas Kristen Indonesia. Journal of Advanced Research in Dynamical and Control Systems. (2020).

  4. Thiboutot, D., et al. New insights into the management of acne: An update from the Global Alliance to Improve Outcomes in Acne Group. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2009).

  5. Chen Y, Lyga J. Brain-skin connection: stress, inflammation and skin aging. Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. (2014).

  6. Schrom, K.P., et al. Acne Severity and Sleep Quality in Adults. Clocks Sleep. Ibid.

  7. Schrom, K.P., et al. Acne Severity and Sleep Quality in Adults. Clocks Sleep. Ibid.

  8. Oyetakin-White, P., et al. Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing? Clin Exp Dermatol. (2015).

  9. Hanson, JA, Huecker, MR. Sleep Deprivation. StatPearls. (2022).

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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