Although it isn’t a bad sleep habit in the same way as staying up late or eating a slice of pizza before dozing off, a recent study has described how sleeping on the side or front causes facial distortions responsible for wrinkles. Specifically, the study highlights the forces that skin gets subjected to while you’re in dreamland and explains the ways it can have a lasting impact on the skin.
A wrinkle is basically a fault line in the skin, often brought on by aging. Wrinkles can form in response to any type of skin distortion, which falls into one of two broad categories.
There are expression wrinkles, which are caused by the muscle contractions involved in the expressions of everyday life, and there are mechanical wrinkles, which are caused by compression, tension, and shear forces. The study did a review of current literature to explore the possibility that forces on the skin during sleep can be responsible for wrinkling.
Repetitive distortions lead to wrinkles thanks to the thinning of the skin and loss of elasticity that occurs as we age, and each source of distortion has its own particular signature.
Expression wrinkles tend to focus around the middle of the brow, the lips, and the eyes. The wrinkles caused by sleep were found to focus more on the sides of the brow, side of the nose, upper corners of the cheek, and sides of the chin. In other words, sleep wrinkles form on the places that are in regular contact with your mattress or pillow.
Sleep wrinkles are influenced by sleep patterns in both the number of times you shift during the night and how long you remain in any one position. Since these wrinkles are the result of distortion of mechanical forces and not muscle contractions, normal dermal treatments like Botox or other neurotoxins can’t do much since the nerves don’t have any influence.
If you are concerned about developing wrinkles, these findings do mean that sleeping on your side or back is technically a bad sleeping habit. However, you also can’t control yourself once you fall asleep and are helpless against any facial distortions your nightly movements can cause. Changing your default sleep position is tricky, but it can be done with dedicated practice, as could using pillows that reduce the mechanical stress on the skin.
“Study Shows Stomach and Side Sleeping Positions Cause Facial Distortion and Wrinkles Over Time,” Aesthetic Surgery Journal web site, July 26, 2016; http://www.surgery.org/media/news-releases/study-shows-stomach-and-side-sleeping-positions-cause-facial-distortion-and-wrinkles-over-time, last accessed August 4, 2016.
Anson, G., et. al., “Sleep Wrinkles: Facial Aging and Facial Distortion During Sleep,” Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 2016; http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/asj/sjw074.