You’ll probably never hear the movie character Zoolander ask, “Have you ever wondered if there is more to sleep than it making you really, really ridiculously good looking?” That’s a relevant question, though, especially since some studies say that getting enough sleep increases your attractiveness.
One study, published in the British Medical Journal, photographed 23 healthy adults after a restful eight hours of sleep and then again after no more than five hours of sleep. The photos of the participants were rated by the general public on a scale of one to 10 on their attractiveness, and the eight-hours-of-sleep photos won hands-down. The study concluded that “sleep-deprived people are perceived as less attractive and less healthy compared with when they are well rested.”
Other beauty-related benefits of adequate sleep include its effects on hair and skin. Hair health and growth patterns can be altered by lack of sleep and result in exacerbated male pattern baldness in men and thinning hair in women. Here’s why: a full night’s sleep allows the proteins in hair strands to replenish and rejuvenate. Getting enough sleep also can improve the look of wrinkles, since the sweat produced during the body’s natural rest cycle hydrates and plumps fine lines.
Your looks aren’t the only thing that can suffer from sleep deprivation, though.
Lack of sleep can adversely affect your immune system, cardiovascular system, blood sugar, brain function and weight. For example, when you don’t get enough sleep, you feel worn down—because you are. Donna Arand, Ph.D., DABSM, clinical director of the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio, says, “Not getting enough sleep makes you more vulnerable to picking up illnesses and not being able to fight them off. What’s going on is your immune system is degraded.” The truth is that the less sleep you get, the weaker your immune system becomes. This leaves you open to viral and other infections, since infection-fighting cells are reduced when you’re sleep-deprived.
Likewise, lack of sleep can cause cardiovascular and blood sugar problems, says Arand. “When you don’t get enough sleep, you have an inflammatory response in your cardiovascular system—in the blood vessels and arteries. We see the same thing in hypertension. If sleep deprivation continues long term, chronic inflammation has been linked to things like heart attack, stroke and diabetes. In one study, young, healthy adult males decreased their sleep time to about four hours per night for six nights. After six nights, every one of those healthy young men showed impaired glucose tolerance, a precursor to developing diabetes,” Arand notes.
Then there’s sleep deprivation’s effect on brain function. Arand points out, “We know that people who are sleep deprived have very poor judgment when evaluating their own performance. They think they’re doing well on memory or eye-hand coordination tests, but they’re not. The memory is slightly degraded when you’re sleep deprived and gets worse the more deprivation you have.” Other studies indicate that those who drive without enough sleep are as impaired as someone who’s drunk.
Don’t forget about the weight factor. There is a link to sleep deprivation and obesity in both adults and children. One study indicates that those who slept five hours per night were 73 percent more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours per night. Although the reason for this is not exactly known, some researchers believe that it could be related to hormonal imbalances—since lack of sleep is linked to lower levels of the hormone leptin, which reduces hunger.
So, how much sleep is enough? For adults, the target to shoot for is between seven and eight hours a night. Don’t overdo it, though, since sleeping more than nine to 10 hours a night is associated with weight gain, heart problems, stroke, sleep disorders, depression and other health problems.
The bottom line is this: getting enough sleep—but not too much—can keep you healthy and may even increase your attractiveness.