Sleep and Your Eye Health

There are many interesting facts about how your eyes behave after your head hits the pillow. There are also a few health concerns in this area that most people are unaware of. To help our patients and readers keep their eyes as healthy as possible, we’re discussing some interesting and useful information about how sleep relates to your eye health for this week’s blog.

eyecare, glasses, blue light, lenses, sleepREM vs. NREM

Scientists broadly separate humans’ sleep cycles into two categories, each of which is based on the behavior of the eyes during the phases they describe. “Rapid eye movement” (REM) describes the phase in which the eyes dart around rapidly, whereas “non-rapid eye movement” (NREM) describes the eyes’ less active phase during sleep. The REM sleep phase is generally the period in which people are actively dreaming, though it’s possible to dream during NREM sleep. Your eyes’ behavior during sleep is a major indicator of how healthy your sleep cycles are.

Changing functions

Your eyes still work while you’re asleep, but their function is reduced to simply detecting light. That’s why a bright light alone can wake someone up. Your eyes may not be actively taking in visual input while you sleep, but your visual cortex (the part of your brain responsible for decoding visual information) is often active. This means that the same brain regions activated by actual visual data are activated by things you’re only seeing in your mind’s eye.

Your eyes and sleep deprivation

Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimal functioning and overall health, and far too many Americans fall short of this quota. One of the main functions of sleep is to repair the body, and this goes for your eyes as well. Regularly getting a full night’s sleep gives the eyes an opportunity to consistently replenish, keeping them healthier for longer. Lack of adequate sleep can lead to chronic dry eye, popped blood vessels, eye spasms, papilledema (swelling of the optic nerve), and other eye-health issues.

Sleeping with open eyes

You may have noticed people and/or animals sleeping with their eyes open, also known as nocturnal lagophthalmos. Most people who do this don’t have their eyes wide open, but even a tiny opening can lead to many of the same eye-health problems as sleep deprivation. Over time, sleeping with open eyes dries them out, and chronic dry eye can lead to more than mere discomfort. It exposes them to keratopathy, eye scratches, corneal abrasions and ulcers, and more. If anyone has ever told you that you sleep with your eyes open, or you wake up with any discomfort in your eyes, we strongly recommend visiting an ophthalmologist; we have various treatments for nocturnal lagophthalmos.

At Georgia Eye Physicians & Surgeons, we offer high-end contact lenses, prescription glasses with enhancing coatings, and the most cutting-edge technology (such as the LenSx laser system and brand-new Alcon AcrySof® IQ PanOptix® trifocal intraocular lenses). We use our expertise to treat the most common, straightforward vision problems, the rarest, most severe eye-health issues, and everything in between. If you’d like to schedule a comprehensive medical eye exam to check for any other eye-health issues, or you’re interested in any of the many other services or products we offer, contact Georgia Eye Physicians & Surgeons today. Be sure to follow Dr. William Segal and Dr. Marc Lay on Facebook and Twitter for more eyecare information, fun facts, and the latest news and updates about eye health.