Counting Sheep

December 20, 2019

During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, many of us worsen our sleep deprivation. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is recommended that adults sleep 7 to 9 hours each day. If we’re not getting enough sleep, there are many negative effects on our overall health, including the eyes.


Sleep Deprivation & Eyes

About 1/3 of our life is spent sleeping, but what happens when we don’t get enough sleep? The following points highlight the signs and symptoms associated with sleep deprivation.

“Bloodshot” eyes
Tired eyes are dry eyes. Dryness makes the eyes appear red and bloodshot from the associated irritation. The eyes are screaming to be closed, so they can heal and replenish cells. Blood rushes to the area with the hope of bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the rescue, but this just makes the eyes appear red and tired.

This is involuntary twitching of the eyelid from lack of sleep. Myokymia can be worsened with stress too. Since most people are sleep deprived due to an increase in stress, these factors are compounded. While the minor lid spasm is annoying, it is typically a harmless finding.

Puffy or swollen eyelids
While sleeping, there is an increased retention of blood and fluid around the eyes. This is due to poor fluid circulation and is usually worse when the eyes are dry after a long night. Blinking helps pump out the accumulated fluid from the eyelids upon waking, however, this can take longer to resolve for some people.

Dry eyes
Burning, watering, and redness are all effects of dry eyes. When the body is tired, it stops producing tears, which are needed to keep the eyes lubricated and seeing clearly. Tears heal the cornea overnight, but without sleep, they don’t have enough time to do the job. Using an artificial tear drop before sleeping and throughout the day can help supplement the body’s natural tears.

Eyestrain and blurred vision
The focusing system is working overtime to keep the eyes seeing clearly, especially on digital devices when tired. Dry eyes makes the problem even worse. Don’t be surprised if it is difficult to read that tiny print if pulling an all-nighter.

People with sleep apnea may not be receiving the necessary “rest” while sleeping, due to the lack of oxygen from disruptions in breathing. Glaucoma and other optic neuropathies can occur if the optic nerve does not have an adequate supply of blood and oxygen.

If the lack of sleep is chronic, it can affect systemic factors such as heart disease and diabetes. These conditions have more serious ocular complications of their own.


Blue Light & Sleep

Blue light from digital devices can alter the natural circadian rhythm that helps us know when it is time to go to sleep and wake up. Looking at a phone, tablet or computer around bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep, not to mention it can worsen eyestrain and dry eyes. Some devices have a “night” or “sleep” mode that uses an amber filter to decrease the amount of blue light that is emitted. Try to limit screen time before going to sleep.


Take a Break

Remove contacts at night to give those eyes a break. During the day when the eyes are open, the cornea gets the majority of its oxygen from the air. When the eyelids are closed, oxygen is supplied by the tears and blood vessels on the underside of the eyelid. If a contact lens is blocking this interface for many hours overnight, the cornea cannot breathe as freely. There are newer, specific contact lenses designed for overnight wear, however, it is still recommended that the lenses are taken out at least once a week to disinfect and give the eyes a break. Not everyone’s eyes can tolerate sleeping in contacts, which makes it a riskier option that is best avoided if possible. Over-wearing contact lenses can lead to an eye infection or corneal swelling due to the lack of oxygen.


Improve Quality of Sleep

Getting more sleep can sometimes be easier said than done. Here are some tips to help catch more Z’s.

– Decrease caffeine intake especially in the evening
– Stay active and exercise during the day
– Take short naps during the day if necessary (and if it fits your schedule)
– Get comfy: set the room temperature accordingly, use a quality pillow, wear earplugs if in noisy environment


If you’re getting plenty of sleep, but still feel tired, talk to your primary care physician about a sleep study to determine if there are any underlying health factors that need addressed.