Getting a good night's rest can improve our health in many ways. And now, a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine is the first of its kind to analyze how patients appear more alert, youthful and attractive after undergoing sleep apnea treatment for 2 months.
The treatment, called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, can stop snoring, improve alertness and reduce blood pressure by keeping the airway open through a stream of air delivered by a mask that is worn during sleep.
It helps patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which researchers say is a sleep illness that is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression and stroke.
However, for some patients, sticking with the CPAP treatment can be a challenge because they must wear the breathing mask all through the night.
After anecdotal stories about how patients appeared to look better after consistently following CPAP treatment, researchers led by Dr. Ronald D. Chervin, of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Michigan, decided to test whether improved facial appearance could be objectively measured in patients.
"We perceived that our CPAP patients often looked better, or reported that they'd been told they looked better, after treatment," says Dr. Chervin. "But no one has ever actually studied this."
Measurable facial improvements
The team studied 20 adult patients who had OSA and daytime sleepiness, and a plastic and reconstructive surgeon used a face-measuring system called "photogrammetry" to capture 3D digital photos of their faces before and 2 months after CPAP therapy.
Not only did computer software analyze the volume and color of the patients' faces, but also 22 volunteers - a mix of both medical professionals and people from the community - rated the images for alertness, youthfulness and attractiveness.
Results of the study show that 68% of the raters characterized the post-treatment images as appearing more alert than before the treatment, while 67% said the images were more attractive and 64% rated them as more youthful.
Additionally, the image analysis found that there were decreases in forehead surface volume in the post-treatment images, which the researchers say could reflect changes in nightly fluid shift, and there was decreased redness under the eyes and cheeks.
Dr. Chervin adds:
"These results show that the subjective impression of many clinicians, namely that their patients look more alert and sometimes more youthful after treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, may well be something that can be perceived by many other people."
Vanity could boost consistent treatment
According to the researchers, this is the first study to show that these changes in facial appearance due to following sleep apnea treatment are noticeable to others.
"This may help convince patients to use their CPAP machines on a nightly basis," notes Dr. Chervin.
Alongside the measurements observed by the volunteers and the image analysis, the team said they noticed a reduction in forehead wrinkles after the treatment, but they did not have a way to measure these observations.
The researchers also note that they did not notice a big change in facial attributes that we normally associate with sleepiness, such as "blue circles or puffiness under the eyes."
Though he says that further research is needed over a longer period of CPAP treatment, Dr. Chervin adds:
"We want sleep to be on people's minds, and to educate them about the importance of getting enough sleep and getting attention for sleep disorders."
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, between 12 and 18 million US adults have untreated OSA.