A couple of weeks ago I posted this picture to Instagram with little explanation of where I was going or what I was doing…
The guesses as to what I was up to were suitably amusing, but I wasn’t becoming a Russian spy or dyeing my hair (alas)…I was in fact taking part in a 10 day sleep experiment.
Like all human people, I love sleep. Sleep is great. I will happily miss out on “fun things” and “outdoor pursuits” for more lovely, beautiful, cuddly sleep.
I am fortunate to sleep very well. Having suffered years of pain-ridden no-sleep when my jaw and spine problems were bad, I really do know how lucky I am to now be one of those people who can sleep on a plane, adjust to new time-zones quickly and generally lie down, close my eyes and drift away instantly. I should put it on my LinkedIn.
I have busy periods where I don’t get enough sleep and I’d definitely like more, sure, but generally I get 7-8 hours. I very rarely go to sleep before 1am, but I make up for it by sleeping in slightly later. (Try working from home, it’s great).
So when I was asked by Bensons for Beds and Dr Guy Meadows’ Sleep School if I wanted to take part in a sleep experiment to see how sleep affects beauty, I jumped at the chance.
I’ve always known I look worse when I’m knackered, but never truly known if I look like death because of, say, a massive boozy night (in which case, is it the abundance of gin or the lack of pillow time?) or because I’m running around like a mentalist with too much work on (and as such is that more of a being stressed issue, rather than simply being tired?).
I was intrigued. I was ready. I SAID YES, DEPRIVE ME.
After all, a few nights with less sleep wouldn’t be that hard, would it?
The experiment was specifically looking at skin and how sleep affects appearance. It goes without saying that getting two hours sleep will leave you looking more than a little worse for wear, but what was interesting about this study is that it took a closer look at what happens when you only sleep “a bit less” for a sustained period.
A survey by Bensons for Beds into over 12,000 people in the UK found that almost 50% of us sleep for just six hours a night – 25% less than the recommended eight hours. The experiment that I took part in examined the skin after eight hours sleep (i.e normal sleep), a night of four hours sleep (i.e 50% less than recommended) and then five continuous nights of six hours sleep (i.e 25% less than recommended). There was a gap between the four hour night and five nights of six hours sleep, to ‘recover’.
I had to do my prescribed sleeping at home (easy), then go to the Sleep School on the relevant mornings for a quick photograph and then an in depth skin analysis with a Visia machine. The rather clever machine looked at spots, wrinkles, texture, pores, brown spots, red areas and bacteria.
There were strict controls. Obviously we weren’t allowed to drink alcohol the night before the skin scans, but we weren’t allowed to have caffeine, water or even milky breakfasts before the skin scans as this could have affected the results. We had to cover our heads and wear sunglasses to the Sleep School (light can perk you up, of course) and I travelled there by car. Obviously treating your skin to oily treats and lotions and potions would affect the results too, so I didn’t sleep in my usual night oils nor did I use moisturisers, serums and eye creams on the mornings of the pics. (I did generally during the ten day experiment, just not on the days of photographing and scanning).
I felt surprisingly chipper and buzzy on the morning after the four hours of sleep, but crashed in the afternoon and got groggy and moody. It was ‘easy enough’ to get on with though, as I knew I could sleep for eight hours that night. There was light at the end of the sleepy tunnel.
What really seemed to break me was the five consecutive nights of six hours sleep. ST was abroad and I was staying up late for no reason other than the experiment, which was infuriating in itself when tired and then getting up earlier than I ‘had to’ from a work perspective. Each day just seemed to make me moodier and moodier, especially when I was getting up at 7am on Bank Holiday Monday!
When I was asked to do the experiment I thought it would be great because I’d be more productive, suddenly gaining two extra hours per day to work when I would usually be asleep….but in reality that didn’t happen at all. I worked less if anything, because I was too tired to concentrate properly. The impact was a lot bigger than I expected.
During London Fashion Week I tend to sleep for four hours a night for five nights in a row, but I get through that buzzing on coffee and the general energy. You can’t sleep, there’s too much on. When you’re at home and your bed is upstairs calling you, it’s harder to stay awake. Maybe I should have hired some models to walk around the lounge.
The impact on my skin was the interesting bit though, I really did look rough.
But the results from the Visia machine were the really shocking bit.
After one night of 4 hours sleep my spots increased in number by 21% and in intensity by 4%. After 5 nights of 6 hours sleep, my spots increased in number by 15%. I’m not yet plagued with wrinkles, but the lines I do have got deeper: after one night of 4 hours sleep my fine lines and wrinkles had increased in intensity by 39% (i.e. got deeper and thus more defined and visible). More worryingly, after 5 nights of 6 hours sleep they had increased in intensity by almost 50% (47%).
After one night of 4 hours sleep my visible pores had increased by only 1% in number and 1% in intensity. However, after five nights of 6 hours sleep they had increased by a significant 8% and in intensity by 5%. In the long term this would presumably influence my skin’s appearance….and not for the better!
The machine also looked for brown spots, which includes bags under the eyes and general discolouration of the skin – both of which are signs of fatigue. After one night of 4 hours sleep my brown spots increased by 8% in number and 7% in intensity, whilst after five nights of 6 hours they had increased by 12% in number and 13% in intensity.
As for the bacteria reading, after one night of 4 hours sleep the bacteria levels had increased by 50% in number and 50% in intensity. (Nice!). After five nights of six hours sleep the bacteria levels had increased by a still significant 31% and in intensity by 33%.
And regardless of what the machine ‘proved’, I knew I looked lousy. And my skin stayed looking crappy for a few days after the end of the experiment.
It was interesting though, I’ve always fully believed that there’s an undoubted link between sleep deprivation and skin quality. But I didn’t expect there to be such a difference between eight hours sleep and six hours sleep.
I’ll definitely be making sure I get as much beauty sleep as I can in the future, especially now that I have very genuine proof that my skin needs it. I might print off my skin analysis results and keep them as a get out of jail free card whenever I’m late for morning meetings 🙂
I’m tempted to write another blog post on “how I sleep” because I do think that day to day – when not being experimented on – I have this whole sleep thing pretty well sorted. It took a long time to sort my sleep patterns out but I have a good routine now. I’m still very much looking forward to June 24th though, I’ll be in Nice and it’s the first day in my diary that I can sleep til 4pm and I’m bloody well going to!
Obviously this post was in collaboration with Bensons for Beds, who have teamed up with Guy Meadows, founder of The Sleep School, to help the nation get a great night’s sleep naturally. You can find more info here: http://www.bensonsforbeds.co.uk/sleep-school/