March 04, 2024 4 min read

Those living with sleep apnea are well aware of its many potential health consequences: a greater risk of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, and early death [1]. It can also result in depression, lower quality of life, and road accidents.


But one less known consequence of unmanaged sleep apnea is subpar skin. Turns out, sleep apnea sufferers are more likely to develop skin conditions or their skin conditions may be more difficult to treat. And even if they don’t develop these skin conditions, their skin may simply appear lackluster and be more prone to premature aging.

But why does having this serious sleep disorder lead to unhealthy skin? And will seeking treatment lead to a glowing complexion and cure you of your skin problems? 

The Importance of Sleep for the Skin

There’s a reason we call it beauty sleep. Sleep plays many important roles, one of which is keeping your skin healthy. Sleep namely helps regulate skin physiology by balancing its pH, hydration levels, blood flow, and skin temperature. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can disrupt certain hormones and inflammatory markers, in this way making the skin susceptible to disease. 


Just one night of poor sleep can show on our faces as [2]:


  • Droopy eyelids
  • Undereye circles
  • Paleness
  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Downturned lips

Long-term sleep deprivation can also show on our skin. According to a recently published review investigating the link between sleep and skin health [3], poor sleepers show more signs of skin aging and are less happy with their appearance. The same review noted that just one night of skipping sleep leads to a significant reduction in skin hydration and elasticity.


Sleep disturbances are also strongly associated with a number of skin diseases. Up to 25% of psoriasis patients report having clinical insomnia, acne sufferers are more likely to report poor sleep, and up to half of all rosacea patients report poor sleep[3].

How Sleep Apnea Causes Skin Problems

So, sleep apnea seems to show on our skin and faces as well. And this was confirmed by the Danish National Patient Registry, which evaluated over 19,000 patients with obstructive sleep apnea and found that these patients had much higher odds of having a skin condition [4]. Some of the most frequently diagnosed skin conditions among sleep apnea sufferers are psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, hidradenitis suppurativa, and even skin cancer. 


Looking at the literature and from their own experience, several Chicago researchers have gathered to identify the mechanisms linking sleep apnea with skin disease [4]: 


Inflammation

Disturbed sleep increases the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are signaling molecules released by immune cells that promote inflammation in the body. While they have their purpose in staving off disease, they can cause problems when too much is being produced. 


Obesity

Many sleep apnea patients are overweight or gain weight as a result of their condition. Obesity impairs normal metabolic functioning and can increase a person’s risk of diabetes. Both problems impair wound healing and normal skin physiology. 


Low oxygen levels

Sleep apnea causes severe drops in blood oxygen levels as a result of breathing pauses. This can put you at greater risk of skin cancer or cancer spread since cancer cells thrive in low-oxygen environments. 

Does Treating Sleep Apnea Improve Your Complexion?

There’s an interesting study that sought to find out if you could tell just by looking at someone that they’re treating their sleep apnea. 


As it turns out, sleep apnea patients look much better after they start using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy [5]. More specifically, the patients of said study looked more alert, youthful, and attractive, as well as having less skin redness and improved facial volume. This was measured photogrammetry, which takes objective measures of photographs. 


So, yes, treating sleep apnea will make your skin glow. This could be due to reduced inflammation and improved blood flow and oxygenation, which we know boosts skin health. But the researchers from the above study also noted that you could look better simply because you feel better and have a more alert facial expression.


As far as curing skin conditions, CPAP therapy really does seem to help. There have been case studies where dermatitis would resolve following CPAP usage [5]. This was believed to be due to improved blood oxygenation and relaxation of underlying muscles, which puts less pressure on the skin. 

What to Do About Sleep Apnea for Better Skin

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that does not go away on its own. If you suspect that you have it, do speak to your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you get treatment, the better your outcomes.

If you have sleep apnea and a skin condition, being consistent with CPAP usage can be key to improving your skin health. Skin conditions are notoriously hard to treat since they involve complex interactions between the immune system and the environment. Making sure your sleep apnea is under control and giving it time can show as improved skin health down the line.

Besides treating your sleep apnea, you also want to take good care of your skin and general health. While beauty sleep can be enough to give you glowing skin, your skin may need a bit more pampering and care to look and feel its best. Make sure to eat a nutritious diet, rich in skin-benefiting nutrients, stay well-hydrated and use sun protection daily. 


References: 

  1. Slowik JM, Sankari A, Collen JF. Obstructive Sleep Apnea. [Updated 2022 Dec 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL):StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459252/

  1. Sundelin T, Lekander M, Kecklund G, Van Someren EJ, Olsson A, Axelsson J. Cues of fatigue: effects of sleep deprivation on facial appearance.Sleep. 2013;36(9):1355-1360. Published 2013 Sep 1.doi:10.5665/sleep.2964

  1. Afzal UM, Ali FR. Sleep deprivation and the skin.Clin Exp Dermatol. 2023;48(10):1113-1116.doi:10.1093/ced/llad196

  1. Soundararajan V, Lor J, Fishbein AB. Sleep Apnea and Skin.Curr Sleep Med Rep. 2020;6(3):94-100.doi:10.1007/s40675-020-00179-7

  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;9(9):845-852.doi:10.5664/jcsm.2976



Also in Blog

Limit social media to improve sleep
Tip: Limit social media to improve sleep 😴

April 12, 2024 5 min read

Researchers have been looking into how social media may be affecting our sleep...
Read More
10-3-2-1-0 SLEEP METHOD
How to Improve Your Sleep With the 10-3-2-1-0 Method

April 05, 2024 3 min read

The 10-3-2-1-0 method is a sleep hack shared on social media by Dr. Jess Andrade, a board-certified physician with expertise in sleep health.
Read More
Ever Wonder Which Countries Get the Most and Least Amount of Sleep?
Ever Wonder Which Countries Get the Most and Least Amount of Sleep?

March 30, 2024 2 min read

Over the past few years, researchers have been able to estimate the amount of sleep different nations get using Big Data.
Read More