It’s true, not a bedtime fable! During the night, the body repairs its store of collagen.
We’ve all heard the expression “beauty sleep,” and now researchers from the University of Manchester have helped shed light on why a good night’s rest imparts us with glowing skin.
The study, which was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, was conducted on mice. The researchers used mass spectrometry and electron microscopes to look at the mouse collagen, and found that the sleep phase is key to regulating support to the extracellular matrix.
What’s the Extracellular Matrix?
Much of our body is made up of an extracellular matrix—it’s half our body weight. It is the structure that holds up our bone, tendon, skin, and cartilage, and is largely made up of collagen. Interestingly, it’s completely formed by the time we are about 17 years old.
The Manchester study discovered that collagen is actually made up of two types of fibrils, or rope-like structures. There are thicker ones that, once formed, stay with us for our whole lives, and thinner ones that break down during the day and are replenished while we rest at night. (See ways to release your stress to ensure a good night’s sleep.)
“It’s intuitive to think our matrix should be worn down by wear and tear,” wrote the study’s lead author, Karl Kadler. Dr. Kadler is a professor of biochemistry at the University of Manchester. But after studying the mouse collagen, the research team discovered it wasn’t.
“And now we know why: our body clock makes an element which is sacrificial and can be replenished, protecting the permanent parts of the matrix,” wrote Kadler, adding, “If you imagine the bricks in the walls of a room as the permanent part, the paint on the walls could be seen as the sacrificial part which needs to be replenished every so often.”
Knowing how the thin, replaceable fibrils help maintain the body’s matrix, says Kadler, “could have implications on understanding our biology at its most fundamental level. It might, for example, give us some deeper insight into how wounds heal, or how we age.”
Want more on collagen? Check out our story on bone broth.