As optometrists and ophthalmologists, we know how essential overall health is to eye and vision health. While we all know we should get a good night’s sleep, most people don’t know how lack of sleep negatively impacts vision and eye health.
It’s just one of the reasons we remind patients that healthy lifestyle choices are a foundation for healthy eyes.
5 Ways Lack Of Sleep Hurts Your Eyes
Sleep requirements vary according to age. According to the CDC:
- Toddlers – Age 5: 10 to 13 hours (including naps).
- Ages 6 – 12: Nine to 12 hours (including naps).
- Teens 13 – 18: Eight to ten hours.
- Adults: Seven to nine hours.
And, of course, if you’re feeling under the weather or are unwell, your body needs more sleep than what’s listed above to boost immune system function. While your kids may be closer to getting the amount of sleep they need, most adults we know do not – and their physical and mental health are barometers for this.
Here are a handful of the ways lack of sleep negatively impacts your eyes and vision.
It’s not good for your physical health
The eyes are just one set of organs in a series of whole-body organs and tissues. If the body isn’t healthy, odds are the eyes tell the story. This is why ophthalmologists and optometrists frequently pick up on health issues our patients didn’t even know they had.
Many health conditions – both permanent and temporary – like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, shingles, autoimmune disorders, etc., affect vision. Healthy sleep habits help manage these conditions by reducing inflammation, stimulating cell repair and regeneration, and boosting the body’s natural immune system response.
It contributes to eye strain
Tired eyes are more prone to eye strain. If your eyes are tired, the muscles are slow and less coordinated. They tire more easily, and that leads to eye strain. Tired and strained eyes also put you at risk for chronic eye rubbing, which leads to corneal scratching and thinning.
If you have a night where you don’t sleep well or didn’t get the amount of sleep you needed, take extra precautions to prevent eye strain, focusing on healthy lighting and taking lots of screen breaks.
NOTE FOR PARENTS: YOUR CHILDREN’S SLEEP IS A PRIORITY
We can’t emphasize enough how important it is for your young children and teens to get good sleep each night. While adults have the tools to cope with sleep deprivation, children experience long-lasting effects.
Children who do not get enough sleep are:
- 41% more likely to be nearsighted.
- Struggle in the classroom and are at higher risk for learning problems.
- Experience higher incidences of behavioral disorders (which are not disorders but are just symptoms of lack of sleep!).
- Miss more school due to being sick.
Do your best to establish a relaxing bedtime routine (more on that below) and protect your children’s sleep time so their bodies, minds, and spirits have a better chance to thrive.
Higher risk of eye infections
We’ve already mentioned that sleep boosts immune system function. That’s why healthy sleep habits correlated with fewer illnesses or missed work and school days. Eyes are also prone to infections, and patients who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to require prescription eye drops.
Most eye infections go away on their own, but because they’re so highly contagious, we always recommend getting prescription eye drops and staying home from work or school for at least three days to get well – and not pass it on!
Eyelid and eyeball twitching
Have you ever had a twitching eyelid? Most of the time, eyelid twitching is temporary and resolves in a matter of hours – or days. Two common causes are lack of sleep and stress (often related, right?). You may notice that your eyelid twitching correlates to sleep deprivation and fatigue.
Sometimes, eyelid spasms that cause the twitching to occur on and off for a series of weeks – a sure sign it’s time to focus on a healthy diet and sleep. If your eyes are both tired and strained, you may even experience spasms in your eyeballs – causing them to shake rapidly. We call this nystagmus. Again, it’s typically temporary when linked to lack of sleep, but contact your optometrist if the issue doesn’t resolve in a handful of days or if it compromises daily activities.
General decreases in eye function
Then there are all the other decreases in eye function you may experience after a night – or several nights – of poor sleep. These include:
- Dry eyes. When you have dry eyes, your eyes may be red and feel dry, as well as scratching or itchy. Use preservative-free, over-the-counter eye drops to find some relief.
- Blurred vision. Since your eye muscles and optic nerves are tired, they don’t work as efficiently as they usually do. This leads to blurred vision and can be dangerous when driving because it makes you more likely to fall asleep at the wheel or experience more severe night blindness.
- Glaucoma and other serious eye issues. While there is no direct correlation between lack of sleep and glaucoma, researchers have connected the two. Studies show that people who have a history of poor sleep habits are more likely to develop glaucoma. Similarly, in a poll of people 40 years and older, researchers found that those who got an average of three hours of sleep per night were three times more likely to have optic nerve damage.
We’ve only begun to understand all of the intricate ways sleep facilitates intricate balances in the body’s physiology, but we cannot ignore the connection between lack of sleep and issues with vision and health.
7 Steps You Can Take To Get On The Healthy Sleep Train
Here are seven steps you can take to get your family back on the healthy sleep train.
- Establish set sleep/wake times regardless of the day to reset the circadian rhythm.
- Get plenty of exercise each day so your body is tired when it’s time to go to bed.
- Dim the lights around the house about an hour before bedtime.
- Stop looking at screens (get phones/gadgets out of bedrooms and use good ol’ fashioned alarm clocks) at least 30 minutes before you head to bed to promote melatonin and other sleep hormone production.
- Stop eating/drinking stimulants (caffeine, sugar, alcohol, chocolate) at least three hours before you want to fall asleep.
- Create a soothing bedtime ritual (calm music, dim lights, aromatherapy, sipping on an herbal bedtime tea, etc.)
- Keep the bedroom for sleep only (move work and clutter out of the space).
Atlantic Eye Institute Supports Healthy Sleep & Sweet Dreams
The team at Atlantic Eye Institute wants all of our patients to reap the benefits of peaceful sleep and sweet dreams. As we post this, we’re heading into the darkest time of the year – which is a perfect opportunity to reset your sleep and wake schedules to protect your vision – and your health. Contact us if you have any questions or need to set an appointment in the new year.