sleep-apnea

You will look better with sleep, but you have to wear your mask: study

Sep. 13, 2013 at 3:54 PM ET

Man before and after a good night's sleep
University of Michigan
The image on the left is before sleep apnea therapy; the one on the right is after. Which looks better to you? It's obvious, isn't it?

Things really do look better after a good night’s sleep. And that includes you, according to a new study released Friday by the University of Michigan Health System, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

But if you want to get the benefits of those refreshing ZZZZs, you had better do something about the sleep apnea, and that means following through on positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy, the researchers said.

“Compliance is a huge issue,” says lead researcher, Dr. Ronald Chervin, who heads UM’s Sleep Disorders Center.

Sleep apnea is an all-too-common disorder in which people stop breathing many times a night and rattle the rafters with their snores. Left untreated, the condition can lead to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and accidents caused by sleep loss.

PAP therapy is one of the most effective treatments for sleep apnea. A machine supplies pressured air to the patient through tubing and a face mask, which should be worn during the entire sleep cycle.

But Chervin estimates that only about half of patients prescribed PAP therapy actually do it, and then only for about four hours a night. “It’s clear that we need something to help make patients more willing to use PAP because the treatment works,” he says.

The study focused on 20 middle-aged patients using CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy for several months, looking for changes in the facial area.

Chervin said the differences were quite noticeable. “At least anecdotally, I would see patients in clinic who were compliant with treatment saying they certainly felt better, but they also looked better.”

Participants were photographed with sophisticated face-mapping software before and after treatment. The images were evaluated by independent raters, who also found that participants looked more youthful, more alert and more attractive after only a few months.

Objective measures showed a decrease in skin redness and a so-called contraction in forehead surface volume which, in lay terms, means fewer wrinkles, perhaps from people not raising their eyebrows to beat back the droopy-eyed drowsiness.

Dr. Edwin Williams, a spokesman for the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, said facial mapping has been used in the past decade by surgeons doing rejuvenation procedures. “The imaging allows us to tailor procedures to an individual, but even with the best procedures, no one is going to stay looking more youthful if they aren’t sleeping well,” he says.

“This is a clever study and sleep apnea is big issue since people are not compliant with treatment and there are many people who are undiagnosed. This (study) gives them another reason to give treatment a try,” Williams added.

For Nora Kryza, CPAP treatment has been life-changing. But she admits she, too, was non-compliant initially due to the size of the face mask. “My family used to call me Darth Vader when I would strap on the mask at night,” said Kryza, who now has a smaller, less cumbersome mask. She said she feels better, is more alert, and has fewer episodes of daytime sleepiness.

“CPAP is no big deal now,” added the 56-year-old software development manager from Fenton, Mich. “The most important thing to me is making sure my health is good as I age, and treating my sleep apnea is the way to do that.” 

She has also seen some other benefits. “I definitely look better,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not ready to give up my night cream, but I have two sisters, one younger and one older, and I now look better than both of them.”

Another plus: her husband, Joe, is getting better rest, too. “He didn’t realize how lousy he was sleeping until I stopped snoring,” Kryza said.

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