Sleep Better, Look Better

wake up beautifulGetting 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.

patient_cpap_frustratedWhile 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.

sleepyfacehires1The 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?!?

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Don’t Ignore the Snore

snoringThink for a moment about the factors that influence health.  Chances are you thought about: smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insufficient exercise. Maybe you added in family history of disease, and stress. How about snoring?

What!?!  Well, according to researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, snoring may put your health at a greater risk than any of the above.

Their study revealed that isolated snoring may not be as benign as first suspected.  The trauma and subsequent inflammation caused by the vibrations of snoring can lead to changes in the carotid arteries – the pair of blood vessels that deliver blood to your brain and head. Snoring can cause a build-up of plaque which can eventually block the blood supply to the brain and increases the risk of stroke.

Snoring is more than a bedtime annoyance and it shouldn’t be ignored. Patients need to seek treatment in the same way they would if they had sleep apnea, high blood pressure or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” says lead author Robert Deeb, M.D., with the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford.

Obstructive sleep apnea– a sleep disorder that occurs due to the collapse of the airway in the throat during sleep and causes loud snoring and periodic pauses in breathing – has long been linked to cardiovascular disease, along with a host of other serious health issues.

But the risk for cardiovascular disease may actually begin with snoring, long before it develops into obstructive sleep apnea.

carotid arteryInvestigators reviewed data for 913 patients aged 18-50, who had participated in a diagnostic sleep study, none of whom had sleep apnea.  54 patients completed a survey regarding their snoring habits, and underwent a carotid artery ultrasound to measure the thickness of the innermost two layers of the carotid arteries. This test is able to pick up the first signs of carotid artery disease.

What they found was that snorers were had significantly greater thickening of the carotid arteries, compared to non-snorers.  Interestingly, no statistically significant differences in carotid artery thickening could be found for patients with or without some of the traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease – smoking, diabetes, hypertension or hypercholesterolemia.

Snoring is generally regarded as a cosmetic issue by health insurance, requiring significant out-of-pocket expenses by patients. We’re hoping to change that thinking so patients can get the early treatment they need, before more serious health issues arise.”

The Henry Ford research team plans to conduct another long-term study on this topic, particularly to determine if there’s an increased incidence of cardiovascular events snoring2in patients who snore.

In the meantime, instead of kicking your snoring bed partner out of bed, seek out medical treatment for him…or her.

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