Most modern workers know the feeling. It’s time for work and you stayed out just a little too late last night. You stumble in to the office, toss back the strongest coffee you can find and hunker down for a new day. And, if you can survive the morning meetings, you’ve made it through, right?
Well, not quite.
Caffeine might be able to clear the fog in the short term and a longer night of sleep might have you feeling better, but those short nights have some lasting effects beyond simple alertness. Lack of sleep can increase your odds of becoming obese, suppress growth hormones, and even potentially put you at greater risk of mental illness.
Your eyes are also far from immune. The visual system is a sensitive one and is one of the first to be heavily affected by lack of sleep.
Dry, irritated eyes are often one of the first signs that something’s wrong with your peepers. Everything from seasonal allergies to hormonal changes to computer work can impact your body’s ability to create tears. Sleep represents a crucial chance for the body to repair and refresh after a long day – interrupt it, and you’ll wind up short on natural lubrication.
While dry eye might seem like a mild inconvenience, it can make your day-to-day life absolutely miserable if not properly remedied. Rubbing is a natural response to the itch and burn of dry eye, but not necessarily a healthy one. Excess rubbing can carry bacteria to your eyes, putting you at risk for a serious infection.
On a more aesthetic level, it also contributes to the classic dark circles you’ll see under sleep-short eyes. These smudges are bruises and appear in part because frequent rubbing damages the sensitive, blood-vessel rich skin around the eyes. Other key contributing factors include blood pooling – another common side effect of sleep deprivation – and burst vessels caused by eye strain.
In an ideal situation, dry eye is handled by directly working to treat the underlying problem – in this case sleep debt. But for those who find that difficult, either because of persistent insomnia or unusual work hours, eye drops may be the best solution. These synthetic tears are a quick, simple way to replenish a shortfall of natural moisture.
Ever had an eyelid quiver for a few seconds? Probably happened after you had one too many sips of espresso, or one too few hours of sleep? If the answer is yes, then you’ve experienced myokymia. In layman’s terms, this is a localized, small-scale muscular spasm, usually affecting tissue around the eye.
Myokymia isn’t a serious issue in and of itself. It’s more irritating than it is anything else and generally sorts itself out without treatment. However, if you do have a visually intensive job, it can constitute a potentially dangerous distraction.
As with the other conditions in the article, it’s best treated by getting a few more hours of sleep. Barring that, take it easy on the caffeine, look away from the computer more often, or place a slightly warm compress over your eyes.
Looking away from the computer for 20 seconds every 20 minutes is actually a great exercise for your eyes. Not only does it activate your eye-focusing muscles, but it will also help refresh your eyes. This is especially important if your job requires you to work on the computer all day. It’s an important step in preventing digital eye strain, which is exacerbated by lack of sleep.
Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy
Also called AION, this issue is a little more serious than the previous entries. AION comes in two different forms – arteritic and non-arteritic. Both are caused when parts of the optic nerve are damaged by low blood supply. The result is almost always a permanent loss of vision. In most cases, thought, patients will keep at least part of their visual field and often recover some of their lost acuity.
While the exact mechanisms behind the disorder are still being investigated, a primary risk factor seems to be sleep apnea, or interruptions to breathing during sleep. These pauses or modifications can cause sleep deprivation. They also appear to starve the body of oxygen and can quickly affect the sensitive optic nerve.
Sleep apnea is more common than you might expect. Luckily, sufferers can now seek a variety of treatments for sleep apnea. People with the disorder generally rely on specialized sleep masks to ensure uninterrupted breathing. Because sleep apnea is connected to AION, it is especially important that you treat this issue as soon as possible if you have it. Not only will you be preserving your cardiovascular health, but you’ll also be preserving your vision – for life.
Fixing the Problem
If you do find yourself dealing with consistently minimal sleep, it’s time to start addressing the problem. Short sleep can cause an enormous number of health effects, but as this is Rebuild Your Vision, we’ll start with the visual bottom line. Fail to get enough sleep, and you can expect that your eyes be more uncomfortable on a day-to-day basis. More importantly, though, they’ll also be exposed to a wide variety of risks that wouldn’t otherwise be an issue.
Our favorite piece of sleep-increasing advice is to try to curtail digital device usage at night. Smartphones and tablets have become popular replacements for books or other quiet, pre-bed entertainment. However, the blue light they emit mimics early-morning conditions and throws off your body’s natural sleep cycle. Additionally, it may also deal direct damage to the optic nerve over time. That makes this habit a double whammy the eyes. If you must use screens at night, you should at least invest in a blue-light blocking screen or lenses in your glasses.
We’d also highly recommend giving eye vitamins and proper nutrition a try. Vision-enhancing supplements can help reduce eye strain, counteracting some of the effects of sleep deprivation, and can relieve some of the irritation caused by dry eye. Try adding these key nutrients to your diet and you’ll find yourself waking up with happier, more comfortable eyes.