How being tired affects your eye health and how you can sleep better

21 December 2021

Author: Kate Green

tired eyes affect eye health

How do you know if you’re sleep deprived?


This time of year is always busy, especially if you’re up late prepping food for Christmas Day, or squeezing in some last minute present wrapping. With so much going on and not enough hours in the day, it can be easy to sacrifice sleep as a way to win back some time and tick tasks off from your growing to-do list. While this might seem like a good idea at the time, regularly cutting back on sleep can actually cause some problems long-term, especially for your eye health.


Common side effects of not getting enough sleep include:

  • Eye bags or dark rings around eyes
  • Myokymia (eye twitches)
  • Aching eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Red eyes
  • Dry sensation
  • Light sensitivity


How does sleep actually improve your eye health?


Some people are advocates for simply resting their eyes, rather than committing to a full nap, if they don’t have enough time to have a proper lie down. Resting your eyes is not the same as sleeping but it can certainly help with any dry eye sensation you are experiencing. Closing your eyelids helps to lubricate the eye, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll enter a sleep cycle which is what you need to help your eyes replenish and rejuvenate.


When we first fall asleep, our eyes slowly open and close, rolling slightly. This is stage one of sleep and it is quite light sleep. Stages two and three of sleep are deep sleep when our eyes are still and we breathe more deeply and slowly. Finally, stage 4 of sleep is REM sleep. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and it is during this stage of sleep that your eyes process old cells and proteins to make way for new, healthy cells. Your tear ducts also replenish themselves, reducing your chances of developing dry eye syndrome. Without entering these deeper phases of sleep, your eyes will not rejuvenate overnight. A full sleep cycle typically takes around 90 minutes but if you have interrupted or light sleep, you’re less likely to get the REM sleep that you need.


Are dry eyes caused by not sleeping enough?


In a word, yes. As we previously touched on, not having your eyes closed for long enough periods can lead to your eyes drying out. In deep sleep stages, your tear ducts replenish themselves, helping with overall eye hydration. In times when you’ve been tired, have you ever instinctively rubbed your eyes? That’s because tired eyes are typically dryer than non-tired eyes, so rubbing them stimulates the lacrimal glands around your eyes. This means they begin to produce more lubricant – if only temporarily – relieving you of the dry sensation.


If you find yourself suffering with dry eyes, you can try using hydrating eye drops to provide quick relief. It’s important to treat dry eyes because they can leave you more prone to eye infections.  Further to this, a tired body has a weakened immune system, making any potential infections caused by inflamed dry eyes even worse.


How much sleep should you really be getting?


The amount of sleep you need depends on many factors such as your age, level of activity/exercise each day, and simply, as an individual, how well you can function with little sleep. The general guidelines for how much sleep people need according to their age are as follows:

  • 65+ years: 7-8 hours
  • 26-64 years: 7-9 hours
  • 18-25 years: 7-9 hours
  • 14-17 years: 8-10 hours
  • 6-13 years: 9-11 hours
  • 3-5 years: 10-13 hours
  • 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
  • 4-11 months: 12-15 hours
  • 0-3 months: 14-17 hours


Ultimately, you’ll know whether or not you’ve slept enough based on how you’re feeling when you wake up. The guidelines above are just that – guidelines – but it’s important that your eyes get enough time to rest and rejuvenate overnight. As a minimum, adults should aim for 7 hours sleep, but between 30-40% of adults actually only sleep for 6 or less hours per night. It’s no wonder that the number of people suffering with dry eye disease is increasing!


How can you get better quality sleep, for longer periods?


It’s not just the amount of time you spend sleeping but also the quality of the sleep you achieve overnight. Ideally, you should enter the REM stage several times during your 7+ hour stretch of sleep, in order to help your eyes rejuvenate overnight. Our top tips for making sure you get good quality sleep include:

  • Using black out curtains, or even an eye mask, to prevent light interference
  • Stick to a sleep schedule with regular bedtimes and wakeups
  • Avoid eating in the couple of hours before bed
  • Try to avoid screens as the blue light can wake you up – read a book instead!
  • Have a room temperature of 18-20 degrees Celsius


Following these pieces of advice should relieve you of the typical symptoms that come with a lack of sleep, as discussed above. Your eyes, undoubtedly, are one of the first parts of your body to suffer when you’re sleep deprived, so ensuring you get your 7+ hours of beauty sleep a night will go a long way to preserving your eye health.

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