Sleep is one of the body’s most basic necessities. Study after study demonstrates the importance of sleep to our physical, mental and social health. But did you know that your eyes also benefit from the proper amount of sleep and that too little sleep can cause vision problems?
The Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep in order to function properly and be well-rested. Studies have shown that at least 5 hours of sleep are needed for your eyes to renew themselves.
While in sleep, the body cycles through several stages of sleep. One of these cycles is called “Rapid Eye Movement,” or REM. During this period the eyes can move up to 1000 degrees per second. This is the stage of sleep typically associated with dreams. While the eye is not processing any visual information, it can still sense light and the visual cortex in the brain is active, perhaps because of the dreams it is processing. The reason the eye moves rapidly during this period of sleep is unknown, but some believe that the eye may be toning its muscles during this time. Non-REM sleep is very deep; blood pressure is low, breathing rate is slow, and people are harder to wake up during this period. The eyes are also still during this period. This stage of sleep is believed to be the healing portion of sleep, when the body (and the eyes) can relax and recover.
When you get less than five hours of sleep each night sleep deprivation can set in. The vision problems resulting from sleep deprivation can be numerous. Dry eyes can become an issue. The symptoms of Dry Eye Disease can include red eyes, itchiness, blurriness and light sensitivity due to lack of lubrication from tears. Eye spasms, or myokymia, can also occur. The eyelid will start twitching, often disrupting the person from their work as a result. With an extended lack of sleep more serious issues can result, such as anterior ischemic optic neuropathy. Typically this condition is rare and tends to occur in middle-aged adults with histories of sleep disorders.
Of course, aesthetic problems also occur with lack of sleep. Bags and dark circles can develop under the eyes and the whites of your eyes can become very red. Since there are a myriad issues associated with lack of sleep and there are incredible benefits to getting enough sleep, be sure to prioritize sleep each night! If you are having trouble sleeping on a particular night try sprinkling some lavender oil on your pillow (or using lavender lotion, body wash, candle or spray), as lavender is known to have a sleep-inducing effect. Try drinking some warm milk, taking a warm bath or relaxing your body and mind with gentle yoga poses. Avoid strong light and the blue light from electronics (such as your TV or phone) before bed, as these will cause your retina to send signals to the brain to wake up. And while 5 hours is needed to renew your eyes, try to get at least 7 hours of sleep so that your whole body can refresh and replenish properly.