For something as natural and necessary as sleep, it sure does cause a lot of problems. First, it can be difficult for many of us to even fall or stay asleep; once we're actually in dreamland, we may struggle with dream issues, sleep paralysis, or sleep apnea. And to add insult to injury, we have to worry about things like stinky breath, bedhead, and dents in our skin depending on what position we sleep in. But unlike very temporary morning breath and mussed hair, there can be a long-lasting impact on our skin's smoothness.
"Sleeping position can definitely have an impact on skin, but not for everyone, and the effects are variable from person to person," says Rachel Maiman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, who says those effects can include acne and sweat-induced rashes from the way their skin folds, perspires, and gets compressed during sleep. And unfortunately, "some people develop fine lines and wrinkles."
We spoke to dermatologists to find out which people are most likely to get wrinkles while they sleep, why, and how to keep those lines at bay without any sleepless nights.
Does sleeping on your side or stomach really cause wrinkles?
Unfortunately, this is not a myth. The position you sleep in is definitely one of the reasons you may start seeing lines and wrinkles on your skin's surface — but it's only one factor among many.
"It won't single-handedly cause them, but these sleeping conditions can expedite and intensify wrinkles on the chest, neck, and face," explains Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, who adds that any behavior or position that continually folds or stretches the skin will create skin laxity over time. "Wrinkling from sleeping position will be more obvious on more lax skin, which is why you'll see it on an adult's chest but rarely on a child's."
In addition to wrinkles, sleeping on your side may also have an effect on other age-related skin changes, like more volume loss on the side you sleep on. "Almost every derm can identify which side a person sleeps on when they come in for fillers," says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali, MD.
What's the best position to sleep in for avoiding lines and wrinkles?
All three dermatologists we spoke to gave us the same bad news for side and stomach sleepers.
"As far as the skin-friendliest way to face, sleeping on your back with your head facing out and center will definitely reduce the risk of developing sleep-related skin problems to the greatest degree," Dr. Maiman says.
Dr. Bhanusali reluctantly concurs. "Back is still the preferred way, although admittedly, it’s very difficult to do, and most don't — including me," he says.
Dr. Robinson also recommends lying on your back, though finding the perfect level between too flat and too propped up can be a challenge. "Elevating too high may cause your chin to drop and your neck to scrunch up, while being too flat may lead to waking up with puffy eyes from the accumulation of fluid and lymph in the upper body," she says.
Do certain types of pillows and pillowcases help?
Pillows are the ultimate frenemy. We rely on them for comfort, but they can betray us — and not just regarding our skin.
"Pillow science needs to get better," says Dr. Maiman. "With age, our neck and body joints need increasingly more support, but too many pillows can exacerbate these problems." Humans evolved without pillows, she says, so, arguably, no pillows would be ideal — but between the aforementioned puffiness that can be caused by lying too flat and our desire for comfort and support, it's not a terribly appealing option.
If you struggle to sleep on your back but would like to give it the old college try, you may want to look into specialized pillows like one of the many cradling designs that keep you facing up while supporting your neck. We like the memory foam YourFacePillow, for which you can buy a specially shaped satin pillowcase.
Speaking of satin pillowcases, there's no harm in investing in one for your current pillow if you're committed to side sleeping. "I'm not convinced that [satin] pillowcases work for actual wrinkle improvement, but I do think having a gentle pillowcase and sheets can be beneficial, including less abrasion while you sleep and, in some cases, less chance for bacteria and dust to accumulate," Dr. Bhanusali says.
"I do recommend investing in a silk or satin pillowcase to minimize skin chafing and tugging," Dr. Robinson says. "These materials are also helpful for minimizing hair breakage." She likes Slip's pillowcases.
What else can be done to help prevent sleep-induced lines and wrinkles?
Luckily, you can tweak your skin-care routine to help battle the impact of skin friction and folding while sleeping and treat the wrinkles that may result.
"Apply your retinol, and don't forget to spread it down on your neck and chest. This will help keep the skin cells rejuvenated, soften fine lines and encourage collagen production," advises Dr. Robinson for nighttime. Dr. Maiman recommends applying a thick cream after your chosen serum because it will "will sink into the spongy top layer of skin and fight the compression impact of folded skin."
If you want to go the extra mile while sleeping, Dr. Robinson suggests using a silicone pad on areas of concern. "They make these shaped for your neck, chest, and even face," she says. "They work by keeping skin hydrated and prevent skin from folding and creasing when you move throughout the night." She's a fan of the treatment pads by Sio Beauty.
Come morning, Dr. Robinson is a proponent of drinking a big glass of water to help depuff and rehydrate. "You can replenish fine lines and lost volume with a hyaluronic acid serum" — her current favorite is the Alastin HA Immerse Serum — "and gently pat a brightening eye cream around your orbital bone. Seek out a product with caffeine to reduce puffiness." We gave BeautyStat Universal C Eye Perfector an Allure Best of Beauty Award for exactly those abilities.
Dr. Maiman takes it to the next level by using a high-tech tool that can combat multiple concerns related to side sleeping's effect on skin. "In the morning, an LED-based at-home device can be a huge help in combating everything from fine lines and wrinkles to inflammatory reactions like acne and heat rash," she says, recommending 20 minutes a day with the MMSphere 2GO. "Add your best serums or masks, and never, ever, ever forget to finish off your treatment — and any morning routine — with sun protection."
In the grand scheme of things, while it may be annoying that the position we feel the most natural and comfortable sleeping in can be a culprit in causing lines and wrinkles, you most definitely don't want to lose sleep over it. "Sleep is one of the most important factors in your overall health, including how your skin ages," says Dr. Robinson. "So, if avoiding compromising positions is cutting into your Zzzs, prioritize the sleep over the position."
This article was originally published on Allure.