The Connection You’re Probably Not Aware Of: Does Lack Of Sleep Cause Acne?

The Connection You’re Probably Not Aware Of

You’ve probably heard what the statistics say about sleep: not getting enough of it can affect your concentration and coordination just like alcohol.

Sleep deprivation can also affect the immune system in many negative ways, including putting you at risk of cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, as well as obesity.

And in addition to those dark circles and eyebags the morning after, the quality of your sleep the night before can affect your skin, too.

But does lack of sleep cause acne?

The answer is yes and in several indirect ways.

How Does Lack of Sleep Cause Acne?

Lack of sleep, by itself, can’t directly cause your acne but it can influence the following acne triggers:

1. Stress

Stress and lack of sleep go hand in hand. And if you’ve ever felt stressed out that you couldn’t sleep or BECAUSE you couldn't sleep, then you probably have a good idea of what I mean.

Yes, I’m talking about those big red angry spots on your face the morning after.

Turns out that sleep deprivation makes your body produce more stress hormones than necessary. One of these hormones is cortisol.

Cortisol has a direct effect on your sebum production. The more cortisol you have means the more oil your skin produces.

And once there’s too much oil, it mixes with dirt and dead skin cells and they end up clogging your pores.

Aside from the actual stress your body experiences from lack of sleep, sleep disruptions can also magnify your stress level. Research reveals that the modern women are particularly prone to this and it’s one of the probable reasons why they breakout.

2. Insulin levels

What do insulin levels have to do with acne? Quite a bit actually.…

In fact, high insulin levels have been known to trigger acne in some people.

Here’s how:

  • When your insulin levels are increased, your body releases more androgen hormones.
  • The androgen hormones trigger an increase in sebum production, making your face more oily.
  • When too much of this oil is produced, it clogs your pores and you experience breakouts.

But, how is your insulin level related to your sleep?

To begin with, sleep deprivation mimics insulin resistance. It’s a state where your body becomes less responsive to insulin in transporting glucose to your systemic circulation and cells.

When insulin resistance happens, glucose begins to build up in your blood. Excessive glucose makes your body produce more insulin to compensate.

These mechanisms increase your insulin level and well, you get the idea.

More insulin means more acne.

3. Food choices

Your sleep plays a big role when it comes to your appetite.

When you’re deprived of sleep, the chemicals ghrelin (makes you hungry) and leptin (makes you feel full) get imbalanced. It makes you crave for more and more snacks.

And as your cravings intensify, your ability to resist becomes impaired.

You load up your diet with food high in sugar and carbohydrates- chocolates, pizza and fries.

And as these food pack on your waist, they also cause your blood sugar to spike. This triggers more insulin, excess oil and acne.

Lack of Sleep and Skin Aging

As if acne isn’t bad enough, lack of sleep can also make you look older than your actual age. It can make your skin look dull, lifeless and old.

As your body fails to repair itself effectively with proper sleep, your skin’s natural collagen begins to break down. Collagen is what makes your skin smooth and durable.

Aside from the structure of your skin, lack of sleep can also make your skin dry and more prone to UV damage. It also slows down the ability of your skin to repair itself.

Over time, as these effects pile up, your skin will start to develop discoloration, fine lines and wrinkles.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Growing up, you’ve probably been told you need around 6 to 8 hours of sleep to be healthy.

While there is a bit of truth to that, the right amount of sleep actually depends on your age.

Newborns sleep almost 17 hours a day and adolescents need about 9-12 hours of shut-eye each night.

Adults need about 7-9 hours of sleep but they still function effectively even with a 6-hour sleep.

Despite these numbers, however, sleep isn’t just about getting the right number of hours. You also have to consider the quality of sleep you get.

Interrupted sleep, for example, can make you wake up feeling and looking exhausted. It can even make you cranky.

How to Get A Good Night’s Sleep

If you’re having trouble with your sleep, here are some of the tricks you can try:

  • During the day, get some hours out in the sun to set up your circadian cycle.
  • Your bedroom should be completely dark. No bright alarm clocks, smart phones or your TV.
  • Adjust the temperature to just below 70 degrees.
  • Avoid caffeine after 2pm.
  • Get some exercise, especially out in the sun.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before going to sleep, and never sleep drunk.
  • Refrain from doing any work-related activities in your bedroom.
  • Take a warm shower before your bedtime.

And if you are really serious about getting the best sleep, try to establish a fixed sleeping routine : go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.

This will not only supercharge your body and leave you feeling refreshed, but it will also program your internal clock. You might not even need your alarm clock anymore.

Wait, what about TOO MUCH sleep?

If lack of sleep can cause acne, can too much sleep have any effect on your skin?

If you are sensitive to insulin-induced breakouts, then sleeping too much could increase your acne, too.

Just like when you get too little sleep, too much sleep can cause insulin resistance. This causes your insulin levels to fluctuate, resulting in the never-ending acne cycle.

And by spending a long period of time on your sheets, the pressure and friction can also affect your skin’s integrity.


Lack of sleep can make you break out for a number of reasons. And if you’re already suffering from acne, there’s a good chance your sleeping habit can make things worse for you.

Aside from the acne, it can also give you wrinkles, sunspots and dull skin.

But more than its effect on your skin, lack of sleep is extremely detrimental to your health, particularly if it’s chronic. It can put you at risk of several health issues, like diabetes and heart problems.

If the condition of your skin isn’t encouraging you to change your sleeping habits, then do it for your health. If your body is in its best health possible, it will inevitable radiate in your skin.

After all, beauty comes from the inside, right?

Dr Kathleen May Eusebio-Alpapara

A board-certified dermatologist who practices both medical and cosmetic dermatology

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