A new study suggests that getting treatment for a common sleep problem may do more than help you sleep better – it may help you look better over the long term, too.
The findings from the University of Michigan Health System and Michigan Technological University, aren’t just about “looking sleepy” after a late night, or being bright-eyed after a good night’s rest.
It’s the first time researchers have shown specific improvement in facial appearance after at-home treatment for sleep apnea, a condition marked by snoring and breathing interruptions.
Sleep apnea affects millions of adults – most undiagnosed — and puts them 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 a system called CPAP to help them breathe better during sleep and overcome chronic sleepiness.
While the research needs to be confirmed by larger studies, the findings may eventually give apnea patients even more reason to stick with CPAP treatment – a challenge for some because they must wear a breathing mask in bed. CPAP is known to stop snoring, improve daytime alertness and reduce blood pressure.
Sleep neurologist Ronald Chervin, M.D., M.S., director of the U-M Sleep Disorders Center, led the study, which was funded by the Covault Memorial Foundation for Sleep Disorders Research.
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 team, including research program manager Deborah Ruzicka, R.N., Ph.D., sought a more scientific way to assess appearance before and after sleep treatment.
“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,” Chervin, the Michael S. Aldrich Collegiate Professor of Sleep Medicine and professor of Neurology at the U-M Medical School, said.
“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,” he added.
The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.