12. Sleep, Stress and Acne

Doctor Jacob here today, and we're talking about sleep, stress and acne. So a lot of people notice that their acne flares up whenever they're under stress, and I'm going to try to validate that and tell you a little bit of why.

Another thing we're going to talk about today is sleep and acne. Let's start with sleep. Getting a good night's sleep or getting enough sleep is really important to try to help minimize your development of acne and help the acne heal. In fact, people who are working the night shift or whose shift cycle is always changing - they work the days for a while, then they have to work night shift - or people who for some reason are unable to get to sleep, their acne tends to be more difficult to control with the usual types of treatments. In some cases it's almost impossible to control if the sleep cycle is so erratic. So that's sleep and acne.

Now let's talk in detail about stress and acne. Although you may have a good night's sleep, almost everybody is subject to stress at one point or another. The brain sends signals into the body and activates the adrenal glands, which are the small glands just above the kidneys. They produce cortisol and other hormones which are stress hormones, and they also produce adrenaline. But the stress hormones such as cortisol and other similar hormones can bind to the oil glands which have receptors for these hormones, and it triggers a flare up by making the oil glands pump out more oil. This stress connection is typically more of a problem in women, because women make a lot of their androgens, which are male-type hormones in the adrenal glands, so they're getting a little burst of androgens essentially, whenever their body goes into a state of chronic stress.

So whenever there's a real major stress on your body or even on your mind, for example emotional trauma like a death in the family, a divorce, the loss of a job or moving to a new part of the country - that's the type of chronic stress that can really trigger a really major flare-up, and sometimes even result in some scarring acne. So it's this type of stress that if you're really battling acne you want to be able to recognize and do your best to have stress-relief outlets, whatever those may be.

Also, I'd like to point out what I called “concealed stressors''. They are things that your body and your mind might interpret as stress, although in reality there's no danger coming from them. For example, if you live on a street in which ambulances routinely go back and forth with a loud siren, although that poses no danger to you, your mind might be interpreting the loud noise as a stressor over and over. Same goes for people who work jobs where there's loud noise, in a factory, or people who live next to an airport where the sound of planes flying overhead is very noisy, and it happens every ten minutes; a plane comes overhead, makes a gush of noise and then the body releases a little squirt of stress hormone. That you may not recognize as something that's a stressor, but definitely your body does.

So the best thing I can say is try to find great outlets to release your stress. Maybe for one person it's yoga, for another person it's running in the park - whatever it may be. Avoid getting emotionally upset over things that don't require one to be emotionally upset, and get a good night's sleep. In these ways, you can minimize the impact of stress on the body, including on your acne.