Dear Lifehacker, Every now and then I have to work really late on a project and end up sleeping pretty poorly or not at all and then I'm afraid I look like one of the living dead the next day. When people comment that I look tired, I feel self-conscious about the bags and dark circles under my eyes and everything else about my appearance. Is there something I can do to not look like crap after a bad night of sleep?
Thanks, Hiding Behind Shades
Photo by Mislav Marohnić
Lack of sleep really pulls a number on us, doesn't it? Missing out on your beauty rest can result in the puffy eyes and dark under-eye circles you mentioned and in dull, tired-looking skin, but don't worry. It isn't hard to look office-presentable or cover up these signs of sleep deprivation, bypassing rude comments about how tired you look (one of the common, awkward phrases people should probably avoid using).
I speak from experience, unfortunately, as someone who burns the midnight oil more often than I'd like to admit and who has a young child who tends to wakes me up several times in the middle of the night. Somehow I manage on most days to fool people into thinking I actually sleep at night. Here's how you can too:
Step 1: Take a Shower
No, I'm not kidding. Taking a shower is dead obvious, but when you feel utterly exhausted and like hell after getting no sleep, you may be tempted to skip the basic shower. Don't. Drag yourself in there so the warm shower can wake you up, and if you have one of those exfoliating scrubbing brushes or energising shower gels to use, all the better.
When you get out, slather on a lot of moisturiser. Sleep loss causes skin to be dehydrated and even look more wrinkled over time. So combat that sleeplessness-induced dryness with moisturiser.
Now that you've got clean, nice-smelling hair and softened skin, brush your teeth and shave (if you're a guy). You might even feel almost like normal now — well, except maybe for those puffy eyes...
Step 2: Combat The Signs of Lack of Sleep
Many of the tell-tale signs of a rough night are in the eyes, but you don't have to wear shades indoors as a solution.
A cold compress is the tried-and-true remedy for puffy eyes. Cool one of these items in your fridge and apply to your eyes for about 10 minutes.
- Cold spoons: use the backs of 2 metal tablespoons, as we've suggested before
- Used tea bags: have a slightly astringent quality, so they can tighten the under-eye area
- Cucumbers: are more than 90 per cent water and just feel cool and hydrating
A lack of sleep doesn't really cause under-eye circles, according to The Mayo Clinic; it just makes under-eye circles and shadows you already have more obvious because lack of sleep makes you paler and more hollow-eyed. That's not really much of a consolation, nor does their suggestion to get extra sleep help much in our case. However, they do offer some other solutions, besides wearing sunglasses:
- Cold compresses: See the ones used above for puffy eyes
- Saline washes or sprays: Rinse with a saline spray or wash to relieve nasal congestion (when your nasal passages are congested, it affects your blood pressure and blood can pool in the veins and capillaries under your eyes, causing "allergy shiners")
- Concealer: Use concealer to hide dark circles (A thick concealer with yellow undertones seem to work best for bluish under-eye circles, I find.)
Massaging your under-eye area with a wet washcloth or frozen cotton swab or altering your salt intake might also help get rid of dark under-eye circles and puffiness.
Whole industries have been built around manufacturing and selling dark circles remedies, by the way, but I've yet to find a miracle cure for chronic dark circles. Otherwise, try the tricks above for short-term relief.
- Over-the-counter eyedrops: like Visine or Liquid Tears should clear those bloodshot eyes right up.
- A warm compress: applied to your eyes for 10-15 minutes a couple of times a day might help shrink the blood vessels too, according to Dr Michele. She suggests this instead of a cold compress if the cause is lack of sleep.
- Makeup: can also camouflage or distract from eye redness, according to Dr Michele: Blue eyeliner in the upper inner lash line (besides making veins less noticeable, will brighten eye whites); white, blue, or grey eyeshadow; or black mascara (to make eyes look whiter).
Pale, tired skin
When you get to work or later in the day, get 5-10 minutes of exercise in — a brisk walk or some stair climbing — to get some youthful glow back into your skin.
Bonus tip: If you're a lady, put on lipstick, whatever colour brightens you up. (I'm not normally a makeup person, but when you're faking wakeful put-togetheredness, a distracting, colourful lip really works.)
Step 3: Preventative Care
For next time, keep in mind some additional tips that may help you look fresher in the morning if you have a short night:
- Use extra pillows and sleep on your back: The Mayo Clinic suggested elevating your head could help reduce dark circles, while RealAge suggests this can reduce sleep lines and face puffiness
- Limit caffeine and alcohol before bed time: Both are dehydrating, and alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, which leads to skin flushing and puffiness, according to CNN/InStyle, making you look worse in the morning
- Drink lots of water: Before you go to bed and when you wake up to hydrate your whole body
Finally, consider what's keeping you awake. Whether you have sleep problems like insomnia that need to be worked on or work-life balance issues, the need for beauty sleep isn't a myth. At least one study found that sleep deprivation really does make people appear less healthy and less attractive compared to when they get a normal eight hours of rest. You don't need to feel too self-conscious about it, though — most people will understand if you just say "had a rough night".
Sleep isn't all about good looks, of course, but rather important fuel for everything we do. So we hope you get some soon — and feel better inside and out.
PS Got a "look good on no sleep" tip for us? Let's hear them in the comments.
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