How Does Sleep Affect Your Eyes?

FG Contacts Feel Good Team
Thursday, 11 March 2021 Share this blog: Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Copy link Copy Link

We all know getting enough sleep is important for staying healthy and alert, but have you ever thought about what a lack of it can do to your eyes?

Sleep is restorative for all parts of the body including cognition and immune function. Getting enough shut eye will keep you alert, more able to fight off infection and give your eyes the moisture and rest needed to perform at their best.

We have a look at how sleep can impact your eyes and give you some tips on how to sleep more efficiently.

What happens to your eyes when you sleep?

Your eyes roll slowly, opening and closing during stage 1 of sleep, when in deep sleep during stages 2-4 your eyes are still. There’s a stage of our sleep cycle called rapid eye movement (REM). During REM sleep, our eyeballs move rapidly behind our eyelids and our bodies become more still. It’s during this stage that we dream. It’s not known why our eyes move so much during this stage, but some believe it could be because we’re watching the scenes in our dreams.

Why do my eyes hurt when I don't get enough sleep?

When you don’t get enough sleep, your eyes can feel strained, dry and itchy the next day. Lack of sleep can cause eye strain, burst blood vessels and dry eye.

Our eyes go through a lot during the day. After spending so many hours using your eyes, it's important for them to get enough recovery time when you're asleep. Getting enough sleep will give your eyes moisture throughout the night so that they can function properly when you wake up.

a woman holding her eye in pain

What are the risks that come with lack of sleep?

As well as causing dark circles and puffy eyes, lack of sleep also poses a threat to our overall eye health and causes the following risks and side effects:

Sleep apnea and your eyes

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where breathing stops and starts frequently. It can have a severe effect on your eyes and is a risk factor for glaucoma which causes vision loss.

Symptoms of sleep apnea can be spotted during an eye exam and include changes in your vision, eyelids or retina. These symptoms are reversible when sleep apnea is treated.

Why do we need to close our eyes to sleep?

There are many reasons why we need to close our eyes while we sleep. Closed eyes block out light, so that the brain is not kept awake. Closing our eyes to sleep also prevents dry eyes as our eyelid helps to spread tears across the surface of our eyes while we sleep.

Sleeping with your eyes open is called nocturnal lagophthalmos and people who sleep with their eyes open usually have damage to their facial nerves or their eyelids.

a woman sleeping in a bed

How to have a good night’s sleep

We need at least 5 hours of sleep per night for our eyes to fully recover from the day. If you have trouble sleeping, here are our top tips on how to get more sleep each night and avoid sleep deprivation:

  • Get as much light/sun exposure during the day as you can - this will increase the quality of your sleep in the evening
  • Limit your exposure to light (and screens) at least 2 hours before bed - the blue light from your screens can stop you from sleeping by tricking your body into thinking it’s still daytime and you should be awake
  • Wear blue light glasses - these will block some of the blue light that emits from digital devices such as your mobile phone or laptop and provide you with a better quality of sleep
  • No matter what time you go to bed, wake up at the same time every day (as much as possible) - having a consistent bedtime will help you to sleep better because your body will start to get tired on cue
  • Avoid alcohol at night - alcohol consumption may initially help you to fall asleep but you’ll end up having very light and poor-quality sleep
  • Consider wearing an eye mask to sleep - especially in the summer months when it gets very light in the mornings, an eye mask can help block out the light. If eye masks aren’t your thing you could also try blackout blinds
  • Exercise regularly - this can help you to sleep much better; however, avoid exercise 3 hours before you go to sleep as this can cause problems unwinding
  • Avoid eating within 3 hours of going to bed - eating just before bed can make it hard for you to stay asleep as digesting your food takes a lot of energy

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