Can Your Sleeping Position Hurt Your Skin? This Is What An Expert Thinks

Illustrated by Olivia Santner
Dear Daniela,

I know that sleep is important for your skin but can the position you sleep in affect your skin? I’m a side sleeper but sometimes I wake up and realise I’ve been sleeping more on my face. Is that bad? I’ve heard that you get more wrinkles on the side you sleep on. Or could sleeping on my face be contributing to breakouts? Please help!

Tara, 22
As much as I love a good myth-buster, the adage about beauty sleep is very true. As you identified, good quality sleep is crucial for healthy, happy skin and generally speaking, we all need about six to eight hours of shut-eye a night. Sometimes, it can be pretty obvious when you’ve not had that. Dull skin, dark circles, a sallow complexion and a generally rumpled demeanour are the telltale signs and, personally, I find a poor night’s sleep much harder to conceal than a spot. Maybe it’s because you feel so bedraggled too but there’s only so much a bit of Touche Eclat can do – although I did once work with a woman who had an inverse correlation between the amount of sleep she got and the quantity of bronzer she wore, so we could always tell when she’d been up late.
Where things get dicey is when we dig into sleep too much – the quality of it, the 'cleanliness' of it, too much or too little of it, the position of it and so on. In the last few years I’ve observed a bizarre shift which I can only describe as 'competitive sleeping', aided by the boom in sleep tech. There are so many devices and trackers and tools and sprays on the market, and while insomnia is a real thing and our generation definitely has far poorer quality sleep than our grandparents did, your question is a great example of how complicated sleep has become. Because really? There’s no right or wrong way. You just have to do it.

I asked Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible, to explain more. "It is not uncommon for faces to be asymmetrical and often we find that people tend to have more lines or deeper sagging of the skin (prominent nasolabial folds or nose to mouth lines) on the side they sleep," said Dr Mahto. "This is mainly down to compression and pressure on the skin while we sleep." Now, that does sound pretty damning – but when I pressed her on the real-life, visible impact of that? "I wouldn’t rank sleeping position very highly at all in terms of skin ageing. Certainly not in the same realm as lifestyle factors like stress, smoking and alcohol, or even just sleep itself," she explained. Just because something can have an impact, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a visible impact. And if worrying about sleeping in the right position is going to have you tossing and turning at night, then the disturbed sleep will show on your skin before eight hours face-first in a feather pillow will.

As I’ve said before, your skin has a hierarchy of needs and in terms of ageing, the most important factors to look at are sun protection, minimising stress, smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as having a balanced diet and sleeping well. Cover all of those and you can think about your advanced skincare. Ace that, and maybe start having in-clinic treatments.
The only tried and true advice about sleeping positions, according to Dr Mahto, is that if you’re prone to a puffy face, you might want to elevate your head slightly. "Swelling and inflammation can be reduced by propping up on pillows and sleeping with the head high rather than lying relatively flat," she explained. "This is a common piece of advice we often give patients in the clinic after procedures like mole removal around the eyes or upper cheeks to reduce puffiness."
As for your concerns about breakouts, you would need to be sleeping in a very hot room with a lot of your face making contact with the pillow continuously for it to cause serious damage. But if you think it’s problematic for you, switch out your pillowcases every few days rather than just once a week, and cleanse your face as soon as you wake up.

Sleep is such a gift, especially in a year where every day feels like a bad news ticker-tape parade layered with shrouds of anxiety and trapdoors of fear to fall through. Enjoy every minute of it you get. That’s all I have to say.


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