Sleep better, look better? New research says yes

Sleep apnea treatment may make patients look more alert, youthful & attractive

sleepy face blog

Before and after images from a sleep apnea patient. Both computer analysis and independent judges detected the effect of better sleep on appearance.

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.

That’s what U-M sleep researchers found when they studied the faces of 20 patients with sleep apnea, before and after they received treatment at the U-M Sleep Disorders Center.

The study suggests that the impact of sleep on appearance goes far beyond just “looking sleepy” after a single late night, or being bright-eyed after a good night’s rest.

It’s the first study showing specific improvements in face appearance after treatment for sleep apnea.

A new reason to stick with treatment?

Millions of adults have sleep apnea, which makes them snore heavily and interrupts their breathing at night. It also puts them at higher risk for heart-related problems and daytime sleepiness. And most people who have it have never been diagnosed.


A sleep apnea patient using a CPAP mask, which is connected by an air hose to a machine that generates a gentle airflow to assist breathing during sleep.

In the study, apnea patients looked better just a few months after they began using a system called CPAP to help them breathe better during sleep.

While the research needs to be confirmed by larger studies, the U-M team hopes their work on face appearance will give apnea patients even more reason to stick with CPAP treatment.

Of course, CPAP also stops patients from snoring, improves their daytime alertness and reduces their blood pressure.

But it means wearing a breathing mask connected to an air hose to bed every night. So sleep experts welcome any additional incentive that might keep their patients using their bedside CPAP machines.

A real impact on the face

The head of U-M’s sleep team, Ronald Chervin, M.D., M.S., says they started the study because they had noticed anecdotally that their patients seemed to look better on their return visits.

But they needed a more scientific way to judge. So, they used an incredibly precise camera and computer program, plus feedback from 22 independent judges, to analyze “before and after” pictures of 20 CPAP patients.

The bottom line: patients looked more alert, more youthful and more attractive after treatment. Their foreheads were less puffy, and their faces were less red, too – and their forehead wrinkles may have been reduced.

Dr. Chervin notes that this initial study wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of donors who have supported U-M sleep research as a way of honoring the memory of Jonathan Covault, a promising attorney who died young, and whose undertreated sleep apnea may have contributed to his premature death. The Covault family was aware of the research study, and of the importance of research that might encourage others to seek and stay with apnea treatment.

More awareness of the benefits of CPAP can help patients everywhere, says Chervin. “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.”


University of Michigan Health SystemFor more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.