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Is the way you're sleeping causing wrinkles? Here's what derms want you to know

When it comes to preventing signs of aging, there really is a better way to snooze.
Kara Birnbaum/ TODAY

We work hard to make sure that we get enough sleep each night, not just for our overall health, but for our complexions, too. It's been well-documented that not getting enough sleep can lead to premature signs of aging, like wrinkles and sagging skin.

But did you know that certain sleeping styles can contribute to those things as well? Meaning, you may not actually be getting as much out of your beauty sleep as you could be.

"If you are a face sleeper, somebody who sleeps on their right or left side or directly on your face for a prolonged period of time, there's pressure compressing your skin," explains Dr. Erum Ilyas, a dermatologist in Pennsylvania. "So there's a crushing effect that occurs. With that element of crush that's consistently there, your skin can start to break down some collagen localized in those regions to sometimes etch in lines."

And these lines tend to show up around the base of the jawline and neck, as well as the cheek and crow's feet region, Ilyas says.

So, to make sure that your nightly ZZZs are doing as much good for your complexion as they are for your overall health, we asked the experts about how your sleeping style can impact your skin — and the things you can do to keep those sleep wrinkles at bay.

Will sleep wrinkles go away?

For the most part, when you wake up, those lines and wrinkles that you notice (which we often consider to be the sign of a good night's rest) will start to go away as you go about your morning routine. But if you sleep in the same position night after night, eventually, they can start to become more permanent.

"Just like facial expression lines that become etched into the skin over time with repeated use of facial muscles, sleep lines get drawn into the skin because they are formed repeatedly over years," explains Dr. Brendan Camp, a double board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City.

Sun damage is another factor that can affect how much your skin recovers. "The sun directly breaks down elastic fibers in the skin, that elasticity actually decreases over time, and we also start to lose collagen [as we get older]," Ilyas says. "So essentially, when you have that crush that occurs and you get up in the morning, that elasticity is no longer there to get [your skin] back into shape."

Does your sleeping position affect your skin?

We have some bad news: The way that you sleep can contribute to these lines and wrinkles — and the most common sleeping positions tend to be the worst offenders.

"Sleeping on your side or your stomach exposes your face to compression and frictional forces," Camp says. "Over time, as the lines are created over and over, the crease may become etched into the skin."

That's why the best sleeping position is flat on your back. "Theoretically, then gravity is pulling your face in the right way, everything is uniformly distributed and you don't have any vectors pulling it in different directions, right or left," Ilyas says.

Though she adds that she doesn't know "many people who can get away with" sleeping on their back, and if you consider yourself in that group, there are some other things that you can do to help minimize sleep wrinkles.

How to prevent wrinkles while sleeping

"Some of it is just ergonomics," Ilyas says. When you side sleep, there's often a gap between your neck and your shoulder where you're not supported. "If you have something to fill that area in a little bit more uniformly, like a neck pillow or body pillow, theoretically, you won't crush all the way down and then have all those lines in your neck."

Also, if you're not a natural back sleeper, there are certain pillows that can help keep you in that position overnight. "Anti-aging pillows are designed to support your head on either side and keep you in a supine position as you sleep," Camp says. "This may prevent you from rubbing and compressing your face against the pillow as you sleep." This sleeping position can also prevent your expensive skincare from absorbing into your pillow and staying on your face, which is where you want it.

You also might be familiar with the concept of using a silk pillowcase to protect your hair, and the experts say that it can be helpful for your skin, too, but in a different way. Because the material is smooth, "there's less of a friction coefficient between your skin and the pillowcase," Ilyas says. "So, theoretically, when there's less friction, there's less drag so your skin isn't pulled in one direction versus another and uniformly settles in."

Silk pillowcases can be pretty pricey, but Ilyas says that any material with a smooth texture, like sateen, will also serve the same purpose.

And if you don't want to change your sleep setup (we get it), simply taking care of your skin during the day can be super helpful for preventing wrinkles overnight. "Applying skin care products at night with anti-aging ingredients can help prevent the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. For example, retinol products encourage the formation of collagen and can minimize the features associated with aging skin."

Also, applying your SPF every day can help decrease that elastin breakdown during the day, Ilyas says. (Just another reason to wear sunscreen!)

With the expert's recommendations in mind, we found some top products that could help you make the most of your beauty sleep and avoid those dreaded sleep wrinkles.

Products to help prevent wrinkles while you sleep

Bedsure Satin Pillowcase

For an easy and affordable way to upgrade your beauty sleep routine, look no further than this bestselling satin pillowcase, which is just $7. According to the brand, the pillowcase is made from a silk-like fabric that helps protect your hair and skin while you sleep.

Zimasilk 100% Mulberry Silk Pillowcase

Made from 100% mulberry silk, this pillowcase has more than 32,000 five-star ratings from shoppers who say that it's helped their skin and hair. It comes in 33 different colors and patterns as well as a variety of sizes to fit your bed.

Osteo Cervical Pillow

Without proper neck support, you may notice some lines popping up in the area. But this bestselling ergonomic pillow features a hollow center that cradles your head and creates proper neck alignment, the brand says, to keep you comfortable. The ergonomic design is said to work for back, side and neck sleepers.

Famedio Adjustable Cervical Pillow

This is another option that's designed to provide support for your neck and head to prevent any gaps. If you find that it's not the right size for your sleeping style, it has a removable memory foam insert that you can take out for a more comfortable feel.

YourFacePillow Beauty Pillow

If you're not a back sleeper but want to become one, this pillow could help. Its ergonomic design is made to cradle your head and support your neck so you can sleep comfortably on your back. It's made from a comfortable memory foam material and comes in both cooling and standard options.

Meet our experts

  • Dr. Erum Ilyas, MD, is a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Pennsylvania. She focuses on adult and pediatric medical dermatology, cosmetic dermatology and skin cancer treatment.
  • Dr. Brendan Camp, MD, is a double board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City. His expertise lies in managing medical conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis, as well as performing cosmetic treatments, including Botox, fillers, lasers and more.