Does Lack of Sleep Cause Acne?

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Not getting enough sleep can have many dire consequences for health. It can affect concentration and your motor skills, it can weaken the immune system and increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and obesity, and it can also affect your skin. But does lack of sleep cause acne? The answer appears to be that it does, indirectly.

How Does Lack of Sleep Cause Acne?

How Does Lack of Sleep Cause Acne

It Increases Your Stress Levels

A lack of sleep makes your body produce stress hormones, such as cortisol. Cortisol increases the amount of oil that the skin produces, and when the excess oil mixes with dead skin cells, it clogs the pores and causes acne.

It Increases Insulin Levels

When you’re sleep deprived, this makes the body less responsive to insulin, and the body becomes resistant to it. When you become resistant to insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, and the body makes more insulin to try and deal with it.

When your insulin levels are high, the body releases more androgenic male hormones, and this can increase the skin’s oil production, which can clog the pores.

It Impacts upon Your Food Choices

When you’re sleep-deprived, the chemicals that control your appetite can become unbalanced and this can lead to cravings for unhealthy foods. Eating sugary and fatty foods can cause your insulin levels to spike which leads to increased oil production in the skin.

It Ages the Skin

A lack of sleep doesn’t just cause acne, it can also age the skin and make it look dull, life, and old. When you sleep, your body repairs itself, and if you are lacking sleep, it causes the collagen in the skin to break down. Collagen keeps your skin smooth and supple.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

It’s recommended that most people get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep, though the amount of sleep you need depends on how old you are. Very young babies need 17 hours of sleep per day, while teenagers need between 9 and 12 hours. But it’s not just about how long you sleep, it’s the quality of your sleep too. If your sleep is poor, you’ll wake up feeling groggy, no matter how much sleep you get.

How to Have a Good Night’s Sleep

How to Have a Good Night’s Sleep

If you have trouble sleeping, try these tips to help you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Get out in the fresh air during the day to burn off some energy
  • Try to make your bedroom as dark as you can get it; use blackout curtains if necessary
  • Have your bedroom cool, but not too hot or cold
  • Avoid caffeine after 2pm
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before bed, as this can disrupt your natural sleep patterns
  • Don’t take work to bed with you, keep it for sleeping and sex only
  • Having a warm shower before bed will help you relax and wind down
  • Put a routine in place; go to bed and wake up at the same time every day

What About Sleeping Too Much?

Too much sleep can also cause your body to become resistant to insulin, which can increase oil production in the skin and the risk of developing acne.

Thoughts on Sleep and Acne

If you suffer from acne and your sleep is poor, you are more likely to notice a flare up. And it’s not only acne that a lack of sleep can cause, it can also give you wrinkles and make your skin look dull. Overall though, you need to get enough sleep to benefit your health, and if you are chronically sleep deprived, this can lead to health problems like heart problems and diabetes. If your general health is good, it will also show in your skin so it’s a win-win.


Acne24 is a common skin condition that causes inflammation of the skin and spots. It can range from mild to severe and it most often affects the skin on your face, back, shoulders and chest. The condition is most common in teenagers and young adults, but it can affect anyone of any age, at any time in their lives.

Acne occurs when hair follicles get blocked with oils produced by the skin’s oil glands, dead skin cells, and other debris. It occurs most often during the teenage years because an increase in testosterone causes the oil glands to produce more oil which can clog the pores and cause breakouts.

Acne presents as blackheads, whiteheads, papules, or pustules. Excess oil can also cause an overgrowth of a bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes for short) that ordinarily cause no problems unless it multiplies.

What Are the Symptoms of Acne?

You will usually notice spots on your face, back, chest, and shoulders, though it does not necessarily appear on all of these areas, this is just where the majority of the skin’s oil glands are.
Acne appears as blackheads and whiteheads, which are known as non-inflamed spots, and red bumps, pus-filled spots or cysts, which are known as inflamed spots, in more severe cases. The skin can feel greasy, tender, and possibly hot. With mild acne, you will have mostly non-inflamed spots, with moderate acne, you will have a mixture of inflamed and non-inflamed spots, and with severe acne, you will have inflamed cysts and spots on your skin that can potentially leave scars.

How Is Acne Diagnosed?

If you have acne, and over the counter, treatments haven’t worked, see your doctor. They will ask about the symptoms you’re experiencing, and they’ll examine your skin. Acne is easily recognizable on the body. Your doctor will then inform you how severe they believe your acne is and what treatment they think will work best for you. If your acne is severe and it is becoming distressing for you, you may be referred to a specialist.

Self-Care for Acne

  • Don’t pick or squeeze your skin as this can make irritation worse and cause scarring
  • Don’t wash your skin too often or scrub it as this can make acne worse. Instead, wash your face with a gentle cleanser and warm (not hot) water. Only wash your skin twice per day.
  • Use acne treatments for long enough before you decide they aren’t working. Some treatments can take months to work, and remember that some treatments will make your skin look and feel worse at first. If your skin feels irritated, stop using the treatment for a few days then reintroduce it gradually.
  • If you wear makeup, choose oil-free products that are labeled non-comedogenic, as these won’t block your pores. Make sure you remove makeup fully before you go to sleep.
  • If your acne treatments make your skin dry, use a water-based moisturizer. Oily treatments can block your pores.
  • Look for skincare products that are formulated for acne prone skin, such as Cetaphil.
  • Over-the-counter products containing benzoyl peroxide help to treat acne. They reduce the amount of acne causing bacteria on the skin. You can buy these treatments from pharmacies and you don’t need a prescription. It might take a little while to see an improvement in your skin. Take care not to get benzoyl peroxide on your clothes or hair as it can cause staining.

Treatment for Acne

Treatment for Acne

The treatment you are prescribed will depend on how severe your acne is and how much it’s affecting your everyday life. You will most likely be prescribed one of the following treatments:

Topical Retinoids Such as Tretinoin and Isotretinoin

These can take some time to work and they can be quite irritating to the skin, at least initially. They can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so you should always make sure that your skin is protected with a sunscreen. Retinoids aren’t suitable if you’re pregnant or you are planning to become pregnant as they can harm an unborn baby.

Azelaic Acid

This is an antibacterial that is often used as an alternative to retinoids, and it’s far less likely to cause skin irritation.
Antibiotic lotions or gels, such as clindamycin or erythromycin
These can reduce inflammation in the skin by reducing the levels of acne causing bacteria on the skin. Take care of not to overuse antibiotics as some bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics this way.

Oral Antibiotics

If your acne is moderate or severe, your doctor might prescribe antibiotic tablets such oxytetracycline, lymecycline or doxycycline. Many people who use antibiotics find that their acne improves within 6 months. They are often used in conjunction with topical treatments.

Oral Contraceptives

If your doctor suspects that your acne is caused by hormonal fluctuations, you may be prescribed the contraceptive pill. These pills suppress testosterone, which causes an increase in the skin’s oil production. You will probably be prescribed other acne treatments with the pill too.

Oral Isotretinoin

If you have very severe acne, your doctor may advise you to take an oral retinoid called isotretinoin which is known as Roaccutane. This reduces the amount of oil that your skin produces. This is a very strong medicine and you can only access this if you are referred to a skin specialist. Your acne might get worse before it gets better, though, and this drug comes with considerable side effects like dry eyes, lips and skin, headaches, nosebleeds and joint pain, as well as liver problems and high cholesterol.

You’ll most likely be advised to have blood tests at regular intervals to check for any developing health problems. Another reported side effect of the drug is depression, though it has not been conclusively proven whether or not the drug actually causes it. However, if you have suffered from depression in the past, it’s definitely worth discussing it with your specialist.

When using this treatment, stay out of the sun, and if you must go out, use sunscreen. It’s not suitable for pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant, as the drug can cause birth defects. It can also cause problems with night vision which is significant if you drive for a living for example.

Light Treatment

Treatments that involve treating the skin with lasers or light are being developed, and these are most often used for conditions like eczema. This treatment isn’t usually given for acne, and research is ongoing into its effectiveness. Still, this treatment isn’t invasive, so you might want to discuss it with your doctor or specialist.

What Causes Acne?

What Causes Acne

Acne is caused when oil from the skin’s glands and dead skin cells block the pores. Changes in hormones, in particular, can affect the amount of oil that the skin produces, this is why acne is so prominent during puberty. Acne can occur at any time of life where hormonal changes occur, such as around menstruation, during pregnancy, and during the menopause. Acne can also run in families, be caused by some medical conditions, and some medicines like lithium and antiepileptic drugs.

Complications That Can Be Caused by Acne

Acne usually clears up on its own without any problems but in some people, it can have lasting effects.

Acne Scars

Around 1 in 5 people will get scarring, and scarring can occur with all types of acne, even mild acne, especially if you pick or squeeze your spots.

Pigmentation of the Skin

If you have darker skin, your skin can become lighter or darker in the areas that are affected by acne.

Psychological Issues

Acne can cause anxiety and depression in some people. It can also affect confidence, especially if the acne is on your face and people stare or make comments. If you feel that your acne is making you feel low, talk to your doctor.

The Myths About Acne

It’s caused by poor hygiene: Cleaning the skin won’t make acne any better, and washing it too much can make it worse.

If your diet is poor, you’ll get acne: There’s no evidence that fatty or sugary foods can cause acne, but if you do notice that eating certain foods makes your acne worse, it will help if you try to cut it out of your diet. Eating an overall healthy and balanced diet can improve your general health.

Acne is contagious: You can’t ‘catch’ acne or pass it on to anyone else.

Stress can cause acne: While it’s true that there is a link, stress doesn’t appear to cause acne on its own. Although having acne can be a source of stress in itself.

Acne treatments can make acne worse: When you first use some acne treatments, they can appear to make your skin worse before they make it better. Most treatments take some time to work but speak to your doctor if your chosen treatment appears to be making your acne a whole lot worse.

Sunlight can improve acne: There’s no evidence to support this theory, and remember the damaging effects that the sun can have on your skin overall.

Natural Ways to Help You Sleep

Natural Ways to Help You Sleep

If you go to see your doctor, the chances are, you’ll be offered sleeping tablets. But before you go down the route of medication, with its side effects, why don’t you try these natural remedies, to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. More sleep equals better skin and better health.

Magnesium and Calcium

These are both natural sleep boosters and if you take them together, it increases their effectiveness. If you take too much calcium, problems with the nerves and heart can arise. The optimum dose for sleep is 200mg of magnesium at night and 600mg of calcium taken at the same time.

Wild Lettuce

This is great for settling you when you’re restless or anxious, and it can also treat restless legs, headaches, and joint pain. Take a supplement of between 30-120 mg before bed.


Hops are present in beer, and they have a calming and sedating effect (which you’ll know if you’ve ever felt sleepy after having a few beers.)

This has been used widely as a remedy for anxiety and insomnia. Take 30 to 120 mg before you go to bed.


Countless studies have proven that lavender can promote a good night’s sleep. It’s cheap and best of all, it’s non-toxic. Spray lavender oil on your pillow before bedtime or use it in a diffuser to fill your bedroom with the scent.


This is the hormone that regulates sleep, and it’s generally released to give our body the message that it’s time to sleep. Low doses can even be effective, but high doses pose a risk of toxicity, depression, or infertility.

Yoga and Meditation

Gentle or yoga can promote a good night’s sleep. Be careful not to choose power yoga which could stimulate you, and that’s definitely not what you want. Combine it with deep breathing and you could be well on your way to the land of Nod.


This is an amino acid that comes from green tea, which has a calming effect that promotes deep, good quality sleep. Green tea doesn’t contain enough of it to boost sleep quality though, and the caffeine might make you get up during the night to use the bathroom, so try a supplement of 50-200 mg at bedtime.


Valerian is one of the most widely-used remedies for insomnia. Many studies have found that valerian promotes a deeper sleep, helps you fall asleep quicker, and boosts sleep quality. You need to take it for a period of time so it builds up in your system. Some people who take valerian actually conversely feel like it wakes them up. If this happens to you, take valerian a little earlier in the day. The general recommendation is to take 200 mg to 800 mg before bed.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.