How lack of sleep affects eye health

A sleepless night can take its toll not only on our image with the appearance of dark circles and puffy eyes. Skimping on rest affects our mood, our memory, metabolism, we feel more lethargic, we find it hard to maintain concentration and can also affect the health of our eyes.

Sleep apnea: what is it, what are its causes and its symptoms?

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On average, in Spain the average amount of sleep is less than seven hours per night (therefore, we are a little below the recommended eight hours in general); 58% of people admit that they sleep badly and 75% wake up at least once a night. How does this poor quality of sleep affect our visual health?

How sleep affects our eyes

Getting the recommended amount of sleep is crucial to our overall health and that of our eyes in particular because it helps us to have clear and comfortable vision. Sleep is restorative for all parts of the body, including cognitive and immune functions.

Getting enough sleep keeps our eyes alert and gives them the hydration and rest they need to function properly.

While we sleep, different phases of sleep occur that are important for the eyes:

  • Rapid Eye Movement (REM): during this phase, breathing becomes more rapid, irregular and shallow, the eyes move rapidly in various directions, and limb muscles temporarily paralyze. It is not known why the eye moves during this period of sleep. One theory says it is because the eye may be toning its muscles. This is the stage of sleep typically associated with dreams. </li>
  • No rapid eye movement (NREM): this accounts for 75% of total sleep and consists of four stages, from the lightest (stage one, in which our eyes move very slowly and muscle activity slows down) to stages three and four, the deepest sleep
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If we do not sleep enough hours, problems can appear such as:

  • Blurred vision and sensitivity to light: these can appear as a side effect of dry eyes, which occur when they are not well lubricated. During sleep, the eyes have the opportunity to get the fluids they need, not only hydrating them but also cleansing them. This can affect the performance of daily activities that involve a certain degree of concentration, such as driving. Nearly one in two people with dry eye sleep poorly.
  • Eye spasms (myokymias): our eye movements are controlled by some of the most active muscles in the body and overtaxing them can have consequences. Not getting enough sleep can affect the nervous system that controls muscle contraction. Although eye twitching can be uncomfortable and cause irritation during the day, it does not damage vision.
  • Eye fatigue: The fewer hours of sleep we get, the less hydration of the eyeball, which leads to eyestrain. Sleeping well allows the ocular surface, where the cornea, conjunctiva and tear film are located, to rest. The effects of eye fatigue usually appear in the form of headaches or difficulty in focusing visual attention.
  • Glaucoma: is a serious eye disease that can lead to blindness if not treated in time. It occurs when too much pressure builds up in the eye, damaging the optic nerve and affecting peripheral vision. A study reveals associations between glaucoma and too little sleep, i.e. poor sleep parameters may be a risk factor or a consequence of glaucoma.
  • Dark circles and puffy eyes: The appearance of the eyes is often affected when we don’t get enough sleep and are a way of showing that the eyes need more rest. This happens because lack of sleep causes the blood vessels to expand.

Sleep apnea has also been linked to a variety of eye diseases (glaucoma, ischemic optic neuropathy, etc.) Although our eyes can deal with an occasional sleepless night, doing so on a consistent basis can have long-term effects.

How to take care of your eyes

After spending many hours “using” our eyes, it is important to give them a chance to recover during the night, so that they work well when we wake up. In addition to the already well-known general recommendations, it is convenient, in the field that concerns us, to take into account another tip: do not abuse the screens of mobile devices or tablets, which are usually behind many cases of eyestrain.

Therefore, just as the body needs time to rest and recover, so do the eyes.

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