The lack of proper sleep can result in a variety of short and long-term consequences. This includes grogginess or feeling sleepy throughout the day, lost of focus or concentration, and less control over one’s emotions. Leave insomnia untreated and you might be looking at more long-term adverse effects, like increased blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and an overall higher risk of heart attack. Now, there’s another thing you can add to the list of insomnia’s many possible consequences: dandruff.
It may not sound like much because it’s a mostly cosmetic issue, but just like insomnia, dandruff can lead to a bunch of other consequences. On its own, dandruff is not that serious of an issue. Physically, if left untreated, the worst it can turn result to is hair loss and/or a scalp infection, and it would have to be a really, really bad and untreated case of dandruff for those things to happen (which is rare since there are many ways to treat the condition).
However, it’s the mental and emotional effects of dandruff that you really need to worry about. Because of its highly visible nature, unchecked dandruff flakes can cause stress, embarrassment, lowered self-esteem, antisocial behavior, and general unhappiness. All of this can lead to depression and even more insomnia, feeding an endless cycle of negative physiological effects and emotions that can make life a lot more difficult.
But before we continue, how exactly can a lack of sleep lead to dandruff flakes on the scalp?
Insomnia Leads to Stress and Stress Can Lead to Dandruff
If you’ve ever had to deal with insomnia, you already know that it can result in looking like death in the morning: fine lines, puffy skin, dark circles, and an overall lacklusterness of the skin. This is because the more you suffer from insomnia, the more your body produces a surplus of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Cortisol is the body’s fight-or-flight hormone. It gives us the adrenaline and energy we need to fight off modern-day predators (work deadlines and life problems) or at least find some way to escape them. Once we react with either fight or flight, cortisol levels naturally go back to normal. But when it comes to insomnia, cortisol levels are heightened with no opportunity for either a fight or a flight response, which means that the cortisol tends to stay up.
And when cortisol levels are high, one of the parts of your body that suffers the most is the skin. High levels of stress and its corresponding hormone can cause the breakdown of skin collagen, which is a protein that keeps your skin naturally smooth and elastic. This leaves your scalp vulnerable to developing dandruff.
But while insomnia-triggered stress certainly contributes to the appearance of dandruff flakes, it doesn’t work alone. In fact, it’s just an accomplice, a trigger that sets the stage for the condition. Unknown to many, dandruff actually comes from a yeast that’s already living inside everyone’s skin…
The Real Cause of Dandruff: Malassezia furfur
Formerly known as Pityrosporum ovale, the yeast now known as Malassezia furfur has been identified by experts as the bacteria that directly causes dandruff. As we mentioned above, it’s a yeast that’s native to the surface of everyone’s skin. That’s right: the real cause of dandruff has been right under our noses the whole time. So why don’t we just have dandruff all the time?
Although Malassezia is constantly present in the skin, it’s also known as an ‘opportunistic pathogen’. This means that it only becomes pathogenic when the opportunity arises: when the human body’s defenses are down. This can happen in a number of ways.
For instance, Malassezia feeds on saturated fatty acids to grow. This is why excessive oiliness in the scalp can sometimes cause dandruff. This is easy enough to prevent by simply maintaining good hygiene and not eating excessive amounts of oily food.
Malassezia can also take advantage of illness, stress, fatigue, extreme changes in weather, and of course sleep deprivation to make way for its dirty work. Whether it’s a weaker immune system, a prolonged bout with insomnia, or a significantly high amount of stress, it can all set the stage for dandruff to happen.
And when it does happen, you can turn to any number of anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory dandruff medication that’s available at your local drug store to make it disappear. But while these medications can control and stop dandruff in its tracks, it’s up to you not to give it any opportunities to happen in the first place. This means finding effective ways to fight insomnia, maintaining proper hygiene, eating a balanced diet, and taking care of your immune system.