There's no shortage of reasons to treat obstructive sleep apnea, including your overall health, your ability to function well during the daytime and even your sex life. Here's another: treating your sleep apnea will likely improve your appearance. New research indicates that effectively treating sleep apnea with CPAP therapy results in patients looking younger and more attractive.
Researchers at the University of Michigan examined the impact of CPAP therapy for obstructive sleep apnea on patients' facial appearance, and found noticeable -- and measurable -- improvements after consistent use of CPAP. The study included 20 adults, 14 men and six women, all of whom had obstructive sleep apnea. Researchers took highly detailed three-dimensional images of participants' faces, both before CPAP treatment began and again after two months of regular use of CPAP. Researchers then asked a group of 22 volunteers to assess both the before- and after-treatment images. For each sleep apnea patient, volunteers were asked to identify what they believed was the post-treatment image, as well as to compare and rate the before-and-after pictures for alertness, youthfulness and attractiveness. Researchers also used 3-D imaging to measure several aspects of appearance, including facial redness and forehead surface volume. They found significant differences to appearance after treatment, according both to volunteers' impressions and objective measurements:
- In a significant majority of instances, volunteers were able to correctly identify the post-treatment images of sleep apnea patients
- Volunteers also were two times as likely to rate the post-treatment images as more youthful, more attractive, and more alert looking
- Image analysis showed that after two months of CPAP treatment, facial redness around the eyes and cheeks had diminished
- Forehead surface area had also decreased after two months of CPAP, a finding that researchers suggested may be attributed to changes in fluid circulation at night.
These results illustrate what most of us already know from looking in the mirror, or at the faces of those familiar to us: when we sleep well, we look better. Other recent research has also explored the relationship between sleeping well and looking good, with similar findings:
- Scientists at the University of Stockholm studied the impact of sleep deprivation on facial appearance. They found sleep-deprived people were observed to have redder and more swollen eyes, hanging eyelids and darker circles under the eyes, as well as more wrinkles and paler skin. According to the study's findings, sleep-deprived people also looked sadder than those who were well rested.
- An earlier Swedish study by some of the same research team also found sleep-deprived people to be perceived by others as less healthy and less attractive than well-rested people.
- A study commissioned by the cosmetics manufacturer Estée Lauder and conducted by scientists at Cleveland's University Hospital's Case Medical Center found that people who slept poorly showed greater signs of skin aging, including more fine lines, uneven pigmentation, and diminished skin elasticity. Poor sleepers also took longer to recover from sunburns and other environmental and stress-related skin damage.
Sufficient amounts of high-quality sleep are critical for cell rejuvenation as well as for healthy immune function, so it's not surprising that we're seeing the effects of poor sleep in aging skin and less youthful appearances. One important way that sleep promotes cell restoration and provides boost to the immune system is through the release of the body's own natural growth hormones. During phases of deep sleep, levels of human growth hormone in the body rise. These hormones play a powerful role in stimulating the immune system and in promoting cellular repair as well as new cell growth. Poor sleep, and sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, diminish both sleep quantity and sleep quality, and can interfere with the body's ability to rejuvenate cells and bolster immune function. This can result in a less attractive, less youthful appearance.
But the most serious consequences of poor sleep and untreated sleep disorders are more than skin deep. Obstructive sleep apnea, left untreated, is associated with significant risks for cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, heart attack and congestive heart failure. Sleep apnea is also linked to Type 2 diabetes and to greater incidence of depression. Patients with sleep apnea are at greater risk for accident and injury.
CPAP therapy is effective in diminishing and even eliminating sleep apnea symptoms, decreasing these health risks significantly. But many patients who are prescribed CPAP don't always use the device consistently. For people who are reluctant to use CPAP therapy on a regular basis, these results provide yet another incentive to stick with the treatment. You won't just feel a difference in your sleep -- you'll see a difference in the way you look.
Our appearance is in so many ways a reflection of our general health and well-being. Sleeping well, and following recommendations made by our doctors for treating sleep disorders can help us look good and feel good.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor®
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