How Sleep Impacts Vision and Eye Health

As our world becomes busier, more chaotic, and more connected, lack of sleep is a very real problem in many people’s lives. There seems to be more to do and even less time to do it. The result is that people are tired and it’s negatively affecting their health. Sleep deprivation and insomnia contributes to heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure and has a negative effect on cognitive functions. 

How much is enough?

A long-term lack of sleep can have disastrous effects on the body, and this includes the eyes. As a general rule, you need to get at least five hours of sleep per night to allow the eyes to rest. Sleep requirements vary depending on a person’s age and five hours may not be enough to prevent other health issues, but it’s a good baseline for taking care of your eyes.

Effects of lack of sleep

Eye health issues from lack of sleep can begin to appear after only one short night. The earliest symptoms include difficulty focusing, double-vision, and dry eyes. Just like the rest of the body, the eyes will “feel” tired. That tired feeling occurs because the muscles that control the eyes are exhausted. For example, the ciliary muscle is important for reading. The extraocular muscle is responsible for moving the eye up and down, as well as side to side. When the muscles are tired, misalignment may occur, which results in double-vision. Without proper rest, the eyes do not receive enough lubrication and this can cause discomfort, an excessive use of eye drops, and long-term vision and eye-health issues.

One effect of sleep deprivation on the eyes is not dangerous, but still irritating. Eye muscle spasms, called myokymia, is involuntary eye twitching can be uncomfortable and distracting. Fortunately, this type of eye twitching will usually disappear with rest.

Many of the effects of lack of sleep on the eyes are cosmetic — puffy eyes, dark circles, and red eyes. But, in the long-term, these seemingly innocuous issues can lead to more serious problems. Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy (AION) is associated with people who have sleep apnea. I is the result of continued inflammation of the eye vessels and causes vision loss over time. Sleep apnea has also been related to floppy eyelid syndrome, nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, central serous retinopathy, retinal vein occlusion, and glaucoma.

Take care of your vision

It’s well-established that sleep affects not only our overall health, but our eye health. The best way to prevent these issues id to establish a healthy sleep routine. Putting away screens before bed, setting up a comfortable sleep environment, and setting consistent sleep and wake times can all contribute to better sleep and better overall health. Taking steps towards healthier sleep will improve tired eyes and in the long term, may save your vision.