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Sleep and Eye Health: How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Eyes

With the time change, many people are feeling more sleep-deprived than usual. Here's how lack of sleep can affect your eye health in surprising ways.

Lena Borrelli Contributor
Lena is a contributor for CNET.
Lena Borrelli
4 min read
Woman with open eyes and sleep mask on forehead
Elizabeth Livermore/Getty Images

Getting enough sleep can do wonders for the body. It can improve your mood, help you live longer and strengthen your immune system. Good sleep health can even improve specific parts of the body, such as your eyes. 

That's right: Good sleep can help you keep your eyes healthy and your vision clear. Curious how? Before you lay your head down tonight, this is what you need to know about lack of sleep and eye health. 

7 ways lack of sleep affects your eyes

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When you do not get enough sleep, you can be left susceptible to certain eye issues, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. These are some of the common ways that lack of sleep can affect your eyes.

  • Dry eyes: Research shows that your eyes may have trouble producing tears when you're sleep deprived or not sleeping well. Dry, itchy eyes also increase your risk of infection.

  • Eye twitches: Eye twitches or spasms are commonly linked to lack of sleep, the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports. Although they aren't actually harmful, they are incredibly distracting, which is why good sleep can do wonders here.  

  • Blurry vision: Blurry vision happens when your eyesight loses its sharpness, so things can appear out of focus. This can also be the result of a common eye disease known as dry eye disease, which is in turn often associated with poor sleep.

  • Under-eye bags: When you have bags under your eyes, it means there is mild swelling of the skin under your eyes. As fluid is retained in that region, it can make you look tired and less alert.

  • Light sensitivity: This is when you are unable to process light without pain or discomfort. It can be another sign of sleep deprivation and/or dry eye disease.

  • Bloodshot or red eyes: Your eyes appear bloodshot if the vessels in the white part of your eye are swollen and red. Keeping your eyes open for longer because you can't sleep can lead to this issue.

To prevent these symptoms, it is critical that you get enough sleep, but what qualifies as enough sleep? 

Experts recommend that adults get seven or more hours of sleep each night, while those younger need even more rest, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Once you're over 60, the CDC recommends aiming for 7 to 9 hours each night, or 7 to 8 hours if you're over 65.

Another way that the body signals that it needs sleep is by sleepiness throughout the day. That is where a nap can benefit your daily health. Napping up to 20 minutes a day has also been shown to demonstrate significant health benefits. 

Person rubbing eye while working on a laptop
Riza Azhari/Getty Images

Glaucoma and other conditions 

While the above issues are often temporary, researchers have also linked poor sleep to more serious vision conditions. One study, for example, found that people with unhealthy sleep patterns were more likely to develop glaucoma, which can cause vision loss. This included common sleep-related ailments like snoring, daytime sleepiness and insomnia, as well as sleeping less than 7 hours or more than 9 hours per night. However, it's not clear what exactly the the relationship between poor sleep and glaucoma is, or why these conditions can be connected. 

One specific sleep disorder that has been linked to eye disease is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is the most common type of sleep disorder and happens when the muscles in your airway become so relaxed that they prevent normal breathing. OSA has been associated with glaucoma, retinal conditions and floppy eyelid syndrome, among other vision-related problems, per the AAO. Again, researchers haven't yet pinpointed exactly why OSA is related to those conditions, but the good news is that OSA is very treatable.

How to get more quality sleep

A few small changes to your daily life can go a long way in protecting your eyes. 

If you are having trouble getting enough sleep, there are some sleep habits you can adopt to sleep better and longer. Exercise and a well-balanced diet during the day have been shown to help promote higher-quality sleep, as does reading a book or taking a bath before bed. For a better bedtime routine, skip the caffeine and avoid electronics as much as possible to allow your eyes to rest from blue light. Alcohol is another common habit that can counteract good sleep.   

Experts recommend that you have a regular eye exam every one to two years, depending on factors like your age and any preexisting conditions. Your eye doctor can also check for signs of conditions like OSA. If you feel you might suffer from OSA, it is critical that you see a doctor immediately, as it can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke in addition to glaucoma.

We have enough to worry about each day. Don't let poor sleep add to it. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.