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  • Writer's pictureMaria Cholakova

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Eyes

Ever wondered how burning the midnight oil affects your eyes? Let's dig deep into the sleep deprivation topic and learn what happens when you don't get enough rest.

Sleep deprivation harms the eyes. In fact, adequate sleep is important for maintaining visual function and eye health. Picture this: your eyes are working tirelessly day in and day out. But to function properly - they need downtime, too.

In this article, we explore the specifics of how your eyes and body react when you skimp on the snooze button. And how it might be taking a toll on you.

How Sleep Deprivation Impact the Eyes?

In the fast-paced rhythm of modern life, sleep often takes a back seat. Many of us are left grappling with the repercussions of sleep deprivation. While the toll on energy levels and overall well-being is well-known, what often escapes the spotlight is the profound impact on our eyes.

The severity of sleep deprivation effects on the eyes can vary from person to person. They may depend on the extent of insufficient rest and individual susceptibility. If you experience persistent eye problems related to lack of sleep, consult an eye doctor for evaluation and advice.

Less Blinking

Blinking is a natural reflex that spreads a nourishing layer of tears across the eye's surface. As it spreads tears across your eyeballs, blinking removes debris and protects your eyes from irritants. It also helps oxygen and nutrients reach your cornea.

When you constantly don't get enough rest, you can force yourself to stay awake, so again, blinking occurs less frequently. Another reason why you blink less when you lack sleep is because your brain is less alert and focuses on the task at hand.

Respectfully, less blinking means less moisture in your eyes. That eye surface dryness increases the likelihood of a gritty sensation. It may even cause dry eye syndrome. Moreover, if you don’t blink enough, your cornea may swell due to a lack of oxygen, which can distort your vision or make it blurry.

Dry Eyes

Sleep deprivation is likely to reduce tear production and the quality of tears (dry eye syndrome). Poor tear quality can potentially make you more susceptible to infections and eye issues. Dry eyes cause discomfort, irritation, redness, a scratchy feeling when blinking, and even blurry vision. There is also a correlation between sleep quality and dry eyes.

Let's take a look at a case-control study "Association between poor sleep quality and an increased risk of dry eye disease", published on October 31, 2022. The research explores the link between poor sleep quality and dry eye susceptibility in patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). A total of 125 participants underwent a thorough eye examination, with researchers evaluating their sleep patterns.

The findings reveal high risks of dry eye disease among individuals with OSA in comparison to those without the condition. Furthermore, the study found a positive correlation between the severity of OSA and the severity of dry eye disease.

Learn more in our article about Obstructive Sleep Apnea and The Risk of Dry Eye.

Irritation, Redness, Dark Circles and Puffiness

Lack of sleep can cause bloodshot eyes and eye irritation. The reason? A decrease in the body's ability to flush out irritants and toxins from the eyes due to poor sleep quality. When something like this happens, the eyes may look swollen and have a bloodshot appearance.

Not catching up on sleep may also cause blood vessels around the eyes to dilate. When they dilate, they become more visible and darken your undereye completion. That results in dark circles and puffiness and makes you look tired and less healthy.

Eye Strain

When you're sleep-deprived, you will struggle with eye fatigue more quickly. In particular, when engaging in tasks requiring intense visual concentration, such as working on a computer or reading. In turn, this leads to severe eye strain and discomfort.

Eye strain due to sleep deprivation produces symptoms like dry eyes, hazy vision, and consistent dull headaches. Taking care of your vision requires you to prioritize sleep to avoid eye strain issues and maintain healthy eyesight.

Temporary Vision Changes

In some cases, the effects of sleep deprivation on the eyes manifest in temporary vision changes. For example, seeing double, experiencing blurry vision, or having difficulty focusing. These concerning symptoms are usually reversible with adequate rest.

Sensitivity to Light

Individuals who neglect their sleep patterns may become more sensitive to light and develop photophobia. This condition can make it uncomfortable to use digital devices, watch TV, stay in bright environments, and even go out on a sunny day.

Studies suggest that disruptions in the circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle, may play a role in the development of photophobia. The circadian rhythm is intricately linked with the body's internal clock. Any disturbances can affect physiological processes, including the way the eyes respond to light.

Decreased Ability to Reduce Inflammation

Adequate sleep is imperative for reducing inflammation throughout the body and the eyes. For instance, sleep deprivation exacerbates inflammatory eye conditions. So if you have uveitis, conjunctivitis, or other eye infections and you don't get enough sleep, you will potentially extend the recovery period.

Higher Risk of Glaucoma

When exploring the link between sleep problems and glaucoma we will resort to official medical studies on the effects of sleep deprivation on the eyes.

The study "Association of sleep behaviour and pattern with the risk of glaucoma" was published on November 1, 2022 in the journal BMJ Open. According to this research, the risk of developing glaucoma is higher in individuals with unhealthy sleeping patterns. The study involved more than 400,000 people in the UK without glaucoma (ages 40 to 69) who were followed for 10 years.

Another study "Relationship Between Glaucoma and Poor Sleep" published in April 2019 by the American Academy of Ophthalmology also found an association between glaucoma and sleep deprivation. The study examined data from more than 6,700 people in the United States over age 40 who answered a survey about their sleep. The study participants were glaucoma patients with optic nerve damage and loss of vision in part of their visual field.

The researchers found that:

People who fell asleep in 9 minutes or less, or those who needed 30 minutes or more to fall asleep, were twice as likely to have glaucoma in comparison to those who took 10-29 minutes to fall asleep.
The odds of vision loss were three times higher among people who got 3 or fewer or 10 or more hours of sleep per night, compared with those who got 7 hours a night.
Patients with trouble remembering things due to daytime sleepiness were twice as likely to develop visual field loss compared to those who did not appear sleepy during the day.
Individuals with difficulty working on a hobby because they were sleepy during the day were 3 times more likely to suffer from vision loss than those who reported no problems working on hobbies and no daytime sleepiness.

Consequently, these findings warrant sleep intervention for those at high risk for glaucoma. Also, potential screening for glaucoma among individuals with chronic sleep problems.

Please note these studies suggest a correlation between sleep problems and eye problems. They do not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship. We recommend consulting with an eye care professional for medical advice.

sleep deprivation effects on eyes

Mitigating the Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Establishing Consistent Sleep Patterns

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is paramount in regulating the body's internal clock. Try to get to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekend. This will synchronize the natural circadian rhythm, promoting optimal sleep quality and supporting ocular health.

Creating a Sleep-Friendly Environment & Pre-Sleep Routine

Design your sleep environment to enhance restfulness. Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in comfortable bedding and a supportive mattress, so your eyes get the break they need at night. Minimize noise and light disturbances, ensuring an environment conducive to uninterrupted sleep.

Also, create a pre-sleep routine to signal to your body that it's time to wind down. This may include reading a book, taking a warm bath, or gentle stretching exercises. Consistency is key.

Blink Breaks

Combat eye strain from lack of sleep by incorporating "blink breaks" from screens into your routine. Every 20 minutes, look away from your TV or digital device and blink rapidly for a few seconds. Regular blinking breaks should moisten your eyes and reduce eye fatigue.

Limiting Screen Time Before Bed

Screen brightness can disrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone regulating sleep-wake cycles. Avoid using screens and digital devices at least an hour before going to sleep. Consider using "night mode" features on devices during the evening to lower eye fatigue.

Mindful Nutrition and Hydration

Prior to going to bed, refrain from heavy meals, caffeine, and excessive liquids. They can interfere with sleep quality and may exacerbate ocular issues. Instead, opt for a light, balanced snack. Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, and antioxidants in your diet. These nutrients play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the eyes and may help mitigate the effects of sleep deprivation.

Stay hydrated throughout the day. Then reduce water intake closer to bedtime to minimize nighttime bathroom disruptions. If you have dry eyes from chronic lack of sleep, consider using artificial tears or lubricating eye drops to ease the discomfort.

Incorporating Relaxation Techniques

Relaxing before bedtime eases the transition into sleep. Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery can alleviate stress and promote a calm mental state. Which is conducive to restful sleep.

Have a Medical Consultation

If sleep difficulties or eye problems persist or worsen, consider consulting a medical professional. They can conduct assessments, identify potential sleep disorders or eye disorders, and recommend interventions.

Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.

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