Insomnia is a relatively common condition that impacts your ability to get enough quality sleep at night. An estimated 9.5% of people¹ in the United States suffer from short-term insomnia each year. Approximately 20% of people who experience short-term insomnia later develop chronic insomnia that can impact their health for years.
Insomnia can have numerous long-term health consequences, such as a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and more, but many people don’t realize that it can also have an impact on eye health.
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Although it’s common knowledge that adults should aim for between 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, many struggle to get that many hours even if they block out enough time to get that much sleep.
Sleep disorders, like insomnia and sleep apnea, make it difficult to get the sleep your body needs to perform various important functions during the day. One often-overlooked effect of sleep disturbances is its negative impact on eye health.
After just one night of not getting enough quality sleep, your eyes may appear bloodshot and feel itchy and dry. This is because your eyes typically produce fewer tears after a poor night of sleep, which can also increase your risk of getting eye infections.
You may also notice that your eyes feel more sensitive to bright lights and that your vision appears more blurry than normal after a night or two of poor sleep.
Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to even more serious eye issues like glaucoma. Glaucoma² is an umbrella term for numerous eye conditions that lead to damage to your optic nerve, and it is associated with sleep apnea, another condition that disrupts healthy sleeping patterns.
Eventually, glaucoma can cause partial vision loss or total blindness. Regular eye exams can help your eye doctor detect damage early on and provide treatments that can slow its progression.
If you struggle to get adequate sleep at night, you might be worried about how that can impact your eye health in the long term.
There are a few lifestyle changes you can make that can help you keep your eyes healthy in the short- and long-term. Here are some things you can do.
Watching television shows or scrolling on social media before bed can make it difficult for you to get enough sleep at night, partly because the blue light emitted from your screens mimics daylight and also because the content you are viewing may keep your brain wound up instead of relaxed.
Try to avoid looking at screens for at least one hour before bed, and try doing other relaxing, screen-free activities in its place for a more restful night of sleep. Getting enough sleep is key to maintaining eye health.
Eating a healthy diet and getting adequate physical activity can greatly improve your overall health and help you maintain your eye health in the long term. Shoot to eat a diet high in colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein, and limit your added sugar and fat intake.
Getting enough exercise is great for your body as a whole, and it can help you maintain your eye health too. Plus, exercise can also help you get better sleep at night, a true win-win!
As mentioned above, getting regular eye exams can help your doctor spot problems before they get out of hand.
The interval at which you might need an eye exam may vary based on numerous factors, but your eye doctor can help you work out a schedule that can help you keep your eyes healthy. It can also be helpful to contact your eye doctor if you notice changes in your vision.
If you are having trouble sleeping many nights of the week and you can feel it interfering with your performance at work or school, it might be time to speak with your doctor. Your doctor may conduct a physical exam to look for signs of inadequate sleep, ask you questions about your sleep habits, and order a sleep study to look at various aspects of your body’s activity while you sleep.
If your doctor believes you are suffering from insomnia, they may be able to offer you a few treatment options to help you get better quality sleep on a more consistent basis.
Some common treatment options for insomnia include:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia is usually recommended as the first line of treatment for people with insomnia, especially when it is related to other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
CBT focuses on noticing disruptive thoughts and actions and teaching you how to redirect them into something more positive for your desired outcomes.
There are several sleep medications available, and your doctor may recommend you try them for a short period to see if they work for you.
These medications can help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, or both, but they can produce unpleasant side effects and cause dependence. If your doctor prescribes you sleep medication, be sure to take it as prescribed and contact your doctor or pharmacist if you notice any concerning side effects.
You can also try some over-the-counter sleep aids that contain melatonin or antihistamines to help you feel more sleepy at night, but these are not recommended for long-term use.
Insomnia is a frustrating condition, especially when you know that poor sleep affects your everyday life and long-term health, including your eyes. Speaking with your doctor about your sleep concerns can help you get the treatment you need to begin to sleep and feel better, which can also help you keep your eyes healthy and in good working order.
Glaucoma | National Eye Institute
Nutrition and eye health (2019)
Keep an eye on your vision health | Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Sleep disorders: In depth | National Institute of Health
Melatonin: What you need to know | National Institute of Health