The Early Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Eyes
You might already be aware that chronic sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression, but you may not realize that your vision can also be affected. In addition to common eye problems like dryness and spasms, lack of sleep can cause serious eye diseases. Sufficient sleep is a critical component in the overall health of your eyes.
The first signs that your eyes are reacting to sleep deprivation can occur after your first overly short night. Symptoms can appear any time you get less than five hours of sleep, as this is the minimum amount of time your eyes need to replenish after working all day. You will notice that you have trouble focusing your eyes, and in some cases, you might have double vision.
These issues occur because the muscles that control your 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 two eyes are not coordinated, a misalignment occurs. You experience the misalignment as double vision.
Many people feel a repetitive twitch, which is known as myokymia. These involuntary spasms of the eyelids are not dangerous and stop after a good night’s sleep. However, they can be unpleasant for those experiencing the constant unexpected tics. A feeling of dryness in the eyes often follows a night of insufficient sleep. Because the body uses this downtime to repair cells and regulate hormone levels, you might experience lower tear production. This leads to irritation, which feels like stinging, burning and/or grittiness.
The appearance of your eyes often suffers when you do not get adequate sleep. In addition to the dark circles that are a well-known side effect of sleep deprivation, you can suffer from a burst blood vessel in your eye due to overuse and strain. While this isn’t painful and it won’t permanently damage your vision, it can be an upsetting development.
Long-Term Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Lack of sleep is one thing, but severe sleep deprivation, such as the type of sleep interruption that occurs with sleep apnea, is quite another. It can have serious long-term consequences for your vision. Individuals with sleep-related issues are at a higher risk of developing ischemic optic neuropathy (ION), which causes permanent vision loss. This condition occurs when the blood flow to the optic nerve is interrupted, much like a stroke interrupts blood flow to the brain. The optic nerve is irreversibly damaged, causing blindness.
While sleep requirements can vary from person to person, the standard recommendation is that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. If you have difficulty falling asleep, some simple lifestyle adjustments can help. Turn off devices with screens, such as smartphones and computer, at least an hour before bed. Refrain from caffeine in the evenings and try exercising in the morning instead of just before bed. Getting enough sleep is an important part of maintaining your overall health, and making sleep a priority ensures you can perform your responsibilities at full capacity throughout the day.