Did you quit CPAP treatment for sleep apnea because you just couldn’t stand to use the darn machine? Here’s a new reason to give CPAP another try—according to a new study, it actually makes you better-looking! The proof…


Background: Obstructive sleep apnea is a dangerous yet common disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops during sleep. The gold-standard treatment is CPAP (which stands for continuous positive airway pressure), an electrical appliance attached to a mask worn over the nose and mouth while sleeping to provide a constant flow of air that keeps the patient’s airway open. It really does help people breathe and sleep better. Still, 46% to 83% of patients don’t fully comply with the treatment—even though sleep apnea contributes to heart problems and other chronic ailments—because they find the device too uncomfortable, inconvenient or noisy. So anything that would help motivate reluctant CPAP users to stick with the treatment would be a boon.

To that end, the new study’s researchers recruited 20 patients newly diagnosed with sleep apnea. Each was provided with CPAP, and the patients’ compliance with treatment was confirmed by electronic download of information from the CPAP units.

Each participant was photographed prior to beginning treatment and again after using CPAP consistently for at least two months. These before-and-after shots were taken using advanced photographic technology called 3-D digital photogrammetry. Typically used by cosmetic surgeons, it creates high-quality, detailed images that people can view with their own eyes…and also incorporates software that can detect even subtle changes in facial contours. For the photos, participants had freshly scrubbed, makeup-free faces…lighting was carefully controlled…photos were taken at approximately the same time of day…and participants looked directly into the camera without smiling.

Researchers then set about gauging the effects of CPAP, both subjectively and objectively, on patients’ appearance…

Subjective test—what other people saw: The before-and-after photo pairs of each participant were shown to 22 volunteer raters, 12 of whom had some kind of medical training. The raters were asked to pick the photo from each pair in which the subject looked more alert…more attractive…and more youthful…and they also were asked to guess which photo in each pair was taken after CPAP treatment began. Raters were not required to select the same photo for all four attributes. Results: In about two-thirds of cases, the raters said that the subjects looked more alert, attractive and youthful in the “after” photos…and raters also correctly identified two-thirds of the post-treatment photos.

Objective test—what the software picked up: The photos also were analyzed by a computer program designed to detect even tiny differences in facial volume, color and measurements. Results: Compared to the “before” images, the subjects in the “after” photos had less puffiness in the skin of the forehead (possibly because improved cardiac function reduced nighttime fluid buildup)…and less redness under the eyes and over the cheeks (perhaps due to reduced inflammation). There was no detectible improvement in eyelid drooping (or, surprisingly, in undereye circles), but forehead wrinkles seemed reduced after treatment—maybe because well-rested people feel less compelled to raise their brows to keep their eyelids open.

What patients themselves reported: The sleep apnea patients were not asked to rate their own appearance, but they did rate their levels of daytime sleepiness before and after starting CPAP—and reported “robust improvement” after treatment.

Bottom line for apnea patients: Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious oxygen-robbing disorder that may contribute to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, erectile dysfunction, depression, anxiety, atrial fibrillation and glaucoma. If these health consequences alone aren’t enough to nudge you toward treatment, please find additional motivation in the knowledge that within weeks of starting CPAP, you’ll not only feel better, you’ll look better—very noticeably better—too.