It’s obvious that we age while we sleep, but do we grow wrinkles while we sleep? I once worked with a doctor who claimed that he could determine the side someone sleeps on based on the distribution of their facial wrinkles and the way one side of the face droops.  I watched him perform what seemed to be a carnival trick many times and for the majority of the time, he seemed to pick the correct side.

I decided to scientifically confirm or deny his theory by collecting facial photos of my next 100 female patients who had never undergone cosmetic procedures and interviewing them as to their sleep side preference. The results of my investigation are published in a recent issue of Dermatologic Surgery1.

The facial photos were split and randomly mirrored to obscure the actual laterality, and rated by an independent physician as to which side had more wrinkles and more descent. Interestingly, there was no significant association between the side the patient claimed to prefer for sleeping and the side with more wrinkles or more descent.

Even more interesting was that the women in the study tended to have more wrinkles on the left side of their face, unrelated to their sleep habits. I attributed this to the fact that our faces receive more sun exposure on the left side as a result of driving. Studies have shown that drivers experience more facial skin cancers on the left side in the United States and on the right side in Australians. We know that sleep lines do occur and they are caused by facial pressure during sleep, but other environmental factors likely trump the influence of sleep position when it comes to the gestalt look of our facial ageing.

Sleeping on our backs or using anti-wrinkle pillows (or sleeping in a zero-gravity chamber) may actually prevent the occurrence of sleep lines, but these measures won’t significantly affect the way that people see us. Rather, we can dramatically alter the progression of facial wrinkles and improve our outward appearance by diligently following UV protection recommendations, including the use of UVA and UVB sunblock (SPF 30 or greater) even when driving, and by abstaining from tanning.

So, how was that doctor able to guess what side his patients were sleeping on? His patients may have wanted him to succeed in his game, thereby corroborating his side selection, or I was witness to some supernatural ability.