Bad Medicine

Sleeping Beauty: Science Proves Beauty Rest Is Real

A woman sleeps in her bed.
Getting a good night's sleep may actually help you look more attractive, a new study confirms. (Image credit: Sleep photo via Shutterstock)

It could have been published in the Journal of No Kidding. Instead, it appears this month in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: Scientists have confirmed that when you sleep better, you look better.

This isn't merely a scientific finding about looking like death after a rough night. (Maybe you didn't need proof of that.) This is about the converse: how several months of solid sleep — uninterrupted by sleep apnea, heavy snoring or irregular breathing — can actually make you look younger and more attractive.

Researchers at the University of Michigan claim they are the first to use a precise, scientific face-measuring system called photogrammetry to objectively measure the youthfulness and attractiveness of 20 patients who underwent treatment for sleep apnea.

Independent medical professionals and other volunteers judged these special photographs, taken before and after the patients' treatment. The judges ranked the "after" images more positively for the majority of the patients.

More than one-quarter of the U.S. population report occasionally not getting enough sleep, while nearly 10 percent — or 30 million Americans — experience chronic insomnia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And more than 7 percent of Americans have obstructive sleep apnea interrupting their sleep, according to various studies. [7 Strange Facts About Insomnia]

Very little data is available, however, on the percentage of Americans who are ugly. Estimates range wildly.

The new study grew out of anecdotal evidence that patients gradually began to look more attractive as their sleep-apnea treatments progressed, said researcher Dr. Ronald Chervin, director of the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center.

"We perceived that our [sleep apnea] patients often looked better, or reported that they'd been told they looked better, after treatment," Chervin said. "But no one has ever actually studied this."

So Chervin teamed up with a reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Steven Buchman, also at the University of Michigan, to use photogrammetry to take an array of images of the patients under identical conditions before and after treatment. Photogrammetry can measure tiny differences in facial contours, and helps facial surgeons plan operations and assess their impact.

"One of the breakthroughs in plastic surgery over the last decade has been our aim to get more objective in our outcomes," Buchman said. "The technology used in this study demonstrates the real relationship between how you look and how you really are doing, from a health perspective."

Specifically, the photo analysis revealed fewer forehead wrinkles, and less redness over the cheeks and under the eyes, in the post-treatment images. 

These images were taken before and after a patient underwent treatment for sleep apnea. (Image credit: University of Michigan Health System)

The researchers said that although their study was small and limited, it demonstrates the importance of not only seeking treatment for sleep disorders, but also of getting a good night's rest in general. By extension, correcting your own snoring implies your bed partner will get a chance to look a little more attractive, too.

Christopher Wanjek is the author of a new novel, "Hey, Einstein!", a comical nature-versus-nurture tale about raising clones of Albert Einstein in less-than-ideal settings. His column, Bad Medicine, appears regularly on LiveScience.

Christopher Wanjek
Live Science Contributor

Christopher Wanjek is a Live Science contributor and a health and science writer. He is the author of three science books: Spacefarers (2020), Food at Work (2005) and Bad Medicine (2003). His "Food at Work" book and project, concerning workers' health, safety and productivity, was commissioned by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization. For Live Science, Christopher covers public health, nutrition and biology, and he has written extensively for The Washington Post and Sky & Telescope among others, as well as for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he was a senior writer. Christopher holds a Master of Health degree from Harvard School of Public Health and a degree in journalism from Temple University.