Sleep Deprivation and Your Eyes

Although we know that adults should get at least eight hours of sleep a night, more than 40 percent of us are getting less than six hours of shuteye per day.

This dismal record continues even though most of us are aware of the dangers of getting too little sleep: Sleep deprivation puts us at risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If that weren’t enough, it turns out that chronic sleep deprivation can result in bigger hazards for our eyes than dark circles. Too little sleep can affect both vision and overall eye health. Among eye problems caused by too little sleep:

  • Eye spasms. Referred to as myokymia, involuntary twitching and eye spasms aren’t dangerous but they are annoying. Adequate sleep rests all the body’s muscles, including those in the eye, so this condition gets reversed quickly with better rest.

  • Eye vessel irritation. Shortchanging your sleep can result in irritated bloodshot eyes.

  • Dry eye. This is a condition in which the eyes don’t produce enough tears. Dry eye can result in a stinging, burning, or gritty feeling, redness and irritation.

More concerning, recent studies have found that sleep apnea can be a risk factor for both glaucoma and successful treatment of macular degeneration. With sleep apnea, which affects more than 100 million people worldwide, a person’s airway becomes blocked, with breathing stopping for a few seconds to as long as two minutes. People with this condition often snore loudly or gasp or choke while asleep. 

Glaucoma is a disease that causes pressure buildup in the eye which damages the optic nerve, potentially leading to blindness. Although the reasons for the connection are not entirely clear, researchers found that when they compared two groups -- one with sleep apnea and one without -- they found that those with the condition had a higher incidence of glaucoma. 

Here’s another good reason to get regular comprehensive eye exams if you suffer from sleep apnea: Studies have found a relationship between sleep apnea and macular degeneration, a condition affecting the retina resulting in vision loss or distortion. Untreated sleep apnea can hinder the affects of treatment for macular degeneration. 

What does this all add up to? Getting good quality sleep is essential for every part of your body, including your eyes. Signs that you may not be getting enough sleep include falling asleep while driving, riding in a car, reading, watching TV, sitting in traffic, in a classroom, or in a movie theater. You may also need more shuteye if you struggle to stay awake when you’re inactive. But take heart; there are plenty of ways to get the rest you need.
 Tips for getting a good night’s sleep

  • Create a digital curfew. Turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime. TVs, computer and iPad screens, as well as smart phones, emit a blue light that mimics sunlight, confusing your body into thinking you should be awake.

  • Get regular physical activity – but not too late at night. Walking for 30 minutes a day is a great way to get started if you’re not used to exercise. Any amount of physical activity is helpful.

  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, and try not to consume alcohol too late in the evening. Although it seems that alcohol has a calming affect, it actually lowers levels of melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep-wake cycles.

  • Eat wholesome foods, especially proteins that are rich sources of tryptophan such as turkey, dairy, eggs, nuts, pumpkin seeds and brown rice.

  • Manage your stress. Try meditation, deep breathing, yoga, Tai chi, biofeedback, or music.

  • Establish a regular sleep routine, even on weekends. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.

  • Make sure your bedroom is dark enough. Melatonin is secreted only in darkness.

And last, but not least, if you wear contact lenses, don’t forget to remove them before going to bed.