Getting treatment for a common sleep problem may do more than help you sleep better – it may help you look better too. So says new research study from the University of Michigan Health System and Michigan Technological University.
And it’s more than just being being bright-eyed after a good night’s rest. For the first time, researchers have shown specific improvement in facial appearance after at-home continuous positive airway pressure [CPAP] treatment for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea affects millions of adults, many of them undiagnosed. It is a condition marked by snoring and breathing interruptions and can put sufferers at higher risk for heart-related problems and daytime accidents.
Using a sensitive “face mapping” technique usually used by surgeons, and a panel of independent appearance raters, the researchers detected changes in 20 middle-aged apnea patients just a few months after they began using CPAP to help them breathe better during sleep and overcome chronic sleepiness. CPAP also helps to stop snoring, improve daytime alertness and reduce blood pressure.
While the research needs to be confirmed by larger studies, the findings may help sleep apnea patients comply with their treatment. Compliance is a challenge for some because of the cumbersome breathing mask they have to wear to bed.
Sleep neurologist Ronald Chervin, M.D., M.S., director of the U-M Sleep Disorders Center, led the study, which has just been published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Chervin says the study grew out of the anecdotal evidence that sleep center staff often saw in sleep apnea patients when they came for follow-up visits after using CPAP.
“The common lore, that people ‘look sleepy’ because they are sleepy, and that they have puffy eyes with dark circles under them, drives people to spend untold dollars on home remedies,” notes Chervin. “We perceived that our CPAP patients often looked better, or reported that they’d been told they looked better, after treatment. But no one has ever actually studied this.”
They teamed with U-M plastic and reconstructive surgeon Steven Buchman, M.D., to use a precise face-measuring system called photogrammetry to take an array of images of the patients under identical conditions before CPAP and again a few months after.
“The technology used in this study demonstrates the real relationship between how you look and how you really are doing, from a health perspective” says Buchman.
The researchers also used a subjective test of appearance. 22 independent raters were asked to look at the photos, without knowing which were the “before” pictures and which the “after” pictures of each patient. The raters were asked to rank attractiveness, alertness and youthfulness – and to pick which picture they thought showed the patient after sleep apnea treatment.
About two-thirds of the time, the raters stated that the patients in the post-treatment photos looked more alert, more youthful and more attractive. The raters also correctly identified the post-treatment photo two-thirds of the time.
Meanwhile, the objective measures of facial appearance showed that patients’ foreheads were less puffy, and their faces were less red, after CPAP treatment. The redness reduction was especially visible in 16 Caucasian patients.
However, they didn’t see a big change in facial characteristics often associated with sleepiness. “We were surprised that our approach could not document any improvement, after treatment, in tendency to have dark blue circles or puffiness under the eyes,” says Chervin. “Further research is needed, to assess facial changes in more patients, and over a longer period of CPAP treatment.”
I don’t have sleep apnea but if CPAP makes you look younger, more attractive and alert, tell me where do I sign up?!?