Sleep Apnea and Physical Appearance

Let’s forget about the numbers for a second. Apnea-hypopnea index, blood pressure readings, glucose counts, pounds on a scale. Don’t get me wrong, these things are all extremely important. However, sometimes it’s easy to forget about these things as we go through the day-to-day motions in our busy lives. There is one thing that is difficult to forget about, though – the way our face looks. For the sake of those who do not care much about physical health but do care about their appearance, let’s take a look into a recent study that examined how untreated sleep apnea can affect physical appearance.

In this study, researchers used subjects who suffered from sleep apnea but had been previously untreated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and reevaluated them after 2 months of CPAP treatment. Pictures were snapped of each person before and after treatment. Photogrammetry, which is a fancy photo analysis technique, was also used. This method enables automated geometric sizing of objects through photography alone. A group of judges (without knowing which condition each picture was from) rated before treatment and after treatment pictures based on a few metrics of attractiveness that were predetermined by the research team.

Results showed that the rating team judged the after-treatment pictures as more alert, more youthful, and more attractive overall. Photogrammetry metrics also noted that forehead surface volume was decreased based on the pictures, and cheek redness was also decreased1. 

Well, what does this study tell us? Basically, we now know that beauty sleep is not a myth. While looking in the mirror, you may have noticed that a single night of bad sleep makes you look slightly worse than normal. The culmination of many nights of poor sleep caused by apneas and hypopneas could certainly lead to worse and worse looking mornings. Luckily, based on these findings, it seems that homeliness caused by untreated sleep apnea may indeed be reversible! If you needed another reason to get treated and stay treated, one is staring at you in the mirror.



1. Chervin RD, Ruzicka DL, Vahabzadeh A, Burns MC, Burns JW, Buchman SR. The face of sleepiness: improvement in appearance after treatment of sleep apnea. J Clin Sleep Med. 2013 Sep;9(9):845-52. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.2976.
Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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