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How to Get Clear Skin Overnight: 2 Overlooked Tips That Work

Want to get clear skin in your sleep? Focus on lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm to make it happen.
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists. Learn more.
Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Published
2023-01-06
Updated
13 MINS
Woman with clear skin, looking restful after a good night's sleep

Skin is one of those things we don’t even think about when it’s behaving. But when we have acne, dark spots, or clogged pores, it’s hard to think about anything else. Especially when excess oil and zits seem to always appear the morning of a big day.

And while there are endless spot-treating skincare products and brightening treatments out there promising to clear up your skin, there are two overlooked ways to make it happen that most of us are neglecting. 

The best part? These methods are natural, don’t involve expensive or irritating products, work for every skin type, and you can do them in the comfort of your own home.  

Below, we’ll dive into how getting enough sleep and getting this sleep at the right times for your body clock can transform the look of your skin. Plus, we’ll show how the RISE app can make this easy to do. 

How Does Sleep Affect Your Skin?

You probably know you need to get enough sleep each night to feel and perform your best, but sleep also has a huge impact on how your skin feels and how it looks. When you don’t meet your sleep need — the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night — your skin suffers. 

A 2022 study found those with later bedtimes had: 

  • Less hydrated skin 
  • Less skin firmness and elasticity
  • More water loss in the skin 
  • More wrinkles 
  • More oily skin 

We’ve covered the benefits of beauty sleep here in more detail, but here’s what’s happening to your skin when you don’t meet your sleep need: 

Your Skin Can’t Renew and Repair Itself 

Sleep is the time your body goes into repair mode. While you get some shut-eye, your body flushes out toxins, gets rid of dead skin cells, and creates new healthy ones. The pituitary gland in your brain produces human growth hormone during deep sleep, and this contributes to the repair and maintenance of your skin. 

When you don’t meet your sleep need, you’re not giving your skin the time it needs to repair. 

And while we’re not advising you skip out on the SPF (broad-spectrum sunscreen protects you from dark spots, wrinkles, and skin cancer!), getting enough sleep can also help you recover better from sunburn

You Develop or Worsen Acne 

There’s a lot of ambiguity when it comes to how acne is categorized and studied, and even around what causes it, but one thing that’s becoming clearer is that sleep and acne are tightly linked. The best spot treatments for pimples, breakouts, and acne may be simply a good night’s sleep.

When you’re sleep deprived, your skin’s regulation of sebum, or natural oil, is thrown off, which is linked to acne. A lack of sleep also causes oxidative stress and inflammation, which is linked to acne. And your stress hormone cortisol spikes when you don’t get enough sleep, which is also — you guessed it — linked to acne. 

Not getting enough sleep may also throw off your androgen hormones (such as testosterone), which can increase sebum production. With more sebum, your skin will be oilier, have more blemishes, and bacteria can thrive, triggering acne. 

A buildup of sebum can also lead to your pores clogging, causing whiteheads and blackheads.

As one paper on the topic states, staying up late can lead to sleep loss and: “Staying up late can cause an increase in the activity of androgen hormones. Increased activity of this hormone causes an increase in sebum production, causing the skin to tend to be more oily and make acne easier.”

But while sleep should be a priority for anyone with acne-prone skin, it may not be easy to come by. That’s because while sleep impacts acne, acne can also impact your sleep. Research has found those with acne are more stressed, and stress and anxiety can make it harder to fall asleep, causing a vicious cycle. 

Your body works hard to stay in sleep homeostasis (the balance between the need for sleep and wakefulness) but this need for balance exists elsewhere, including in your skin (like the balance between removing old skin cells and creating new ones). So, getting your sleep right can have a cascade of good effects.

Another thing to be aware of: Those who are overweight or obese tend to have higher androgen levels, which may increase sebum and acne. And sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain

And if you suffer from acne caused by wearing a mask during the COVID pandemic — also known as maskne — poor sleep can aggravate these flare-ups. 

Your Skin’s Barrier is Compromised 

Your skin’s natural barrier acts as armor against the outside world, keeping irritants out and hydration in. But this is yet another thing that’s impacted by a lack of sleep. 

One study found good sleepers who slept for seven to nine hours a night had 30% better barrier recovery than poor sleepers who slept for five hours or less. 

For glowing skin, you need a healthy skin barrier. When it’s damaged you’re more prone to dryness, flaky skin, red or discolored patches, sensitive skin, acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis.  

Your Complexion Takes a Hit 

When you don’t meet your sleep need, your blood flow is reduced, leading to a paler, more blotchy, and more uneven skin tone. 

The sleep hormone melatonin helps prime your body for sleep, but when you get light exposure at night, or when you don’t get enough sleep from a misaligned body clock (more on this later), this hormone is suppressed. However, melatonin is hugely impactful on your skin. It’s been associated with suppressing UV damage in the skin, wound healing, having anti-inflammatory properties, and protecting you from acne — all of which help keep your complexion clear.

What’s more, increased cortisol from sleep deprivation can break down collagen, the natural protein responsible for skin plumpness, and reduced blood flow can also cause blood to pool around your eyes, creating those tell-tale dark circles. 

You can learn how to get rid of dark circles and bags under eyes here.

Working Out Your Sleep Need

Most of us don’t know our sleep need, though. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not simply eight hours for everyone. One study suggests the average sleep need is 8 hours 40 minutes, plus or minus 10 minutes or so, but 13.5% of the population may need 9 hours or more sleep a night.

The RISE app uses historical phone use data and proprietary sleep-science-based model to work out your exact sleep need in hours and minutes. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.

How Does Your Circadian Rhythm Affect Your Skin?

When you think about getting glowy skin, you probably think of a skincare regimen packed with face masks, cleansers, and toners — and less about sleep. But beyond meeting your sleep need, you also want to think about your body clock, or your circadian rhythm. 

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s roughly 24-hour internal clock. You have one master clock in your brain, which controls things like your sleep-wake cycle and hormone production, and peripheral clocks in almost every other organ and tissue, including in your skin. 

Everything from skin cell production to water loss to barrier function runs on a circadian rhythm, varying across the day.

While these clocks are always ticking away, it’s easy to get out of sync with them by working night shifts or sleeping or eating at odd and irregular times. This not only tanks your energy levels and can cause serious health consequences, it impacts your skin, too. 

Research shows DNA repair activity is higher in the morning and can be thrown off in shift workers who are out of sync with their circadian rhythms. 

As a 2019 paper discussing the research puts it: “This suggests that during the early morning hours, the body best performs DNA repair and that optimal DNA repair occurs with optimal sleep.” 

Psoriasis, a skin condition that causes flaky patches to form, has also been linked to disruptions to your circadian rhythm, although it’s not clear why exactly yet. And those with psoriasis may also experience more sleep disruptions like insomnia, which creates a vicious cycle as sleep deprivation can make the condition worse.

Being out of sync with your circadian rhythm also increases the signs of extrinsic aging, or aging caused by external lifestyle factors, and magnifies the effect of chronological age on the intrinsic aging of the skin.

Concerned about signs of aging? You can learn more about how to prevent wrinkles here.

How to Get Clear Skin Overnight?

Getting clear skin in your sleep isn’t just about using the perfect pillowcase, best face wash, or most-expensive retinoid — it’s about the sleep you’re actually getting and when you get it. Here’s how to maximize your chances of clear skin.

Lower your Sleep Debt 

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have.

Sleep debt is the running total of how much sleep you owe your body. It’s compared to your sleep need. In an ideal world, we’d all be meeting our sleep needs every night, but late nights spent working, tending to kids, or out with friends often get in the way. 

That’s why it’s important to keep track of your sleep debt overall. Focusing on sleep debt, rather than hitting your exact sleep need each night, also makes things less stressful — and as we covered above, stress has a huge impact on both your sleep and skin.

We recommend keeping your sleep debt below five hours to help you feel, function, and look your best. Got more than five hours? Here’s how you can pay it back: 

  • Take well-timed naps: Check RISE for the best time to do this. 
  • Go to bed a little earlier. 
  • Sleep in a little later: Just be sure not to sleep in more than an hour or two to avoid disrupting your circadian rhythm. 
  • Improve your sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene habits help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night, meaning you get more sleep overall.

The win-win about sleep hygiene is that many of the habits — like limiting alcohol, avoiding melatonin-suppressing bright light before bed, and having a relaxing bedtime routine (in which you might wash your face and do calming activities) — can also help to promote radiant skin. 

The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have and keep track of it as you pay it back. It can also guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits and tell you the ideal time to do them to make them more effective. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications. 

Live in Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm 

RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and dip times
The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm each day.

Staying in sync with your circadian rhythm can ensure everything from your skin barrier to your DNA repair work as well as they should. 

Here’s how to stay in sync: 

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule: Even on weekends or days off.
  • Eat meals at roughly the same times and during the day: Eating when your body is expecting it — i.e. during the day — and at regular times. Bonus: RISE can tell you when to finish up your last large meal of the day to stop it from keeping you up at night.  
  • Go to bed at the right time for you: There’s a time of night when your body’s rate of melatonin production will be at its highest. In the RISE app, we call this your Melatonin Window. Head to bed during this time to get the sleep-boosting benefits of the hormone.

The RISE app predicts your circadian rhythm each day and shows you a visual representation of when your body naturally wants to wake up, wind down for bed, and go to sleep, making it easy to sync up your daily life to it. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.

Sleep is Nature’s DIY Skin Treatment 

You may have tried over-the-counter lotions, elaborate skincare routines, or multiple trips to the dermatologist, but one skincare tip you may be missing out on is sleep. 

Meeting your sleep need and living in sync with your circadian rhythm can help reduce acne and breakouts, even out your complexion, and make sure your skin’s barrier function is in tip-top condition, keeping redness and discoloration at bay. 

To get the beauty sleep your skin needs, use the RISE app to find out your individual sleep need and how much sleep debt you have. RISE can also predict your circadian rhythm each day, helping you sync up with it, and guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to make getting beauty sleep at the right times easier. 

The real win-win to all this? The benefits of meeting your sleep need and staying in sync with your circadian rhythm extend far beyond clearer skin. They can boost your energy levels, productivity, mood, and overall health, too. Seeing the effects of sleep debt and circadian misalignment on your skin may be just the nudge you need to start paying attention to these often-forgotten pillars of health.

Summary FAQs

What is the trick to clear skin?

The trick to clear skin is getting enough sleep and staying in sync with your body clock. This reduces acne, keeps your skin oil-free, evens out your complexion, keeps redness and discoloration at bay, and ensures your skin can repair and renew itself well.

Why does my skin look better in the morning?

Your skin looks better in the morning as your body has spent the sleep time repairing and renewing your skin cells. Your skin is also slightly thicker in the morning and fluid has returned to your face, meaning fine lines and wrinkles look less pronounced.

What foods clear your skin?

Foods that clear your skin include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and foods high in antioxidants like berries, tea, and green vegetables. Avoid sugar, simple carbs, and processed foods. While many believe chocolate causes acne, more research needs to be done to confirm.

Does drinking water clear skin?

Yes, drinking water can help clear skin. Dry skin produces more oil, which can lead to clogged pores, breakouts, and acne. Drinking water can also make your skin softer and smoother.

What can we apply on our face overnight?

You can apply vitamin c serum, chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid or glycolic acid, retinol, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera gel, tea tree oil, or green tea extract to your face overnight to exfoliate, brighten, and promote clear your skin. Moisturizers can also lock in hydration.

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About Rise
Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
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