A new study suggests that lack of sleep may increase the risk of irreversible vision loss.
Too little eye closure, daytime sleepiness and snoring may all be associated with an increased chance of glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness that research shows will affect 112 million people worldwide over the next 20 years.
It is characterized by progressive loss of photoreceptor cells in the eye and damage to the optic nerve, but if left untreated, it can progress to permanent vision loss.
The study, from a peer-reviewed study of 409,000 people by the UK Biobank, published in the journal BMJ Open – suggests a number of reasons why poor sleep and glaucoma are linked.
One is that internal pressure in the eye, a key factor in the development of the condition, is elevated when a person is lying down and sleep hormones are out of balance.
Depression and anxiety, which often occur with insomnia, can also increase this stress because they negatively affect the regulation of cortisol production – the body’s primary stress hormone.
Repeated or prolonged episodes of low cellular oxygen levels caused by sleep apnea (breathing stops and starts during sleep) can also cause damage to the critical optic nerve.
Who participated in this study?
From 2006 to 2010, all participants were between the ages of 50 and 69.
Some of them described themselves as night owls, suffering from insomnia, daytime sleepiness and excessive snoring.
For research purposes, the normal sleep duration is considered to be seven to nine hours.
Background information such as age, weight, medical records, lifestyle, and race/ethnicity that may also influence glaucoma development were registered.
Overall, the study identified 8,690 glaucoma cases after an average of 10.5 years of surveillance.
Night owls at higher risk of heart disease
An extra hour of sleep can help you lose weight
Lack of sleep increases risk of chronic disease
Six tips to help you fall asleep
- Relax before bed – turn off those screens, maybe take a good shower, read a good book
- Drink less coffee – caffeine can stay in our bodies for up to eight hours, so don’t stay up late
- Don’t take your phone to bed – you can use it as an alarm clock, but we all know you’ll pick it up if a WhatsApp message comes through
- Have a sleep schedule – try to go to bed at the same time every night (sorry, shift workers)
- Stop looking at the clock – focusing on how long it takes you to fall asleep is a surefire way to not fall asleep
- Watch what you eat – if you eat dinner shortly before bed, cut back on carbs and sugar
The researchers found that older adults and men were more likely to have the disease, as were people with high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes.
However, most sleep problems investigated were associated with an increased risk of glaucoma.
People who slept less or more than normal were 8 percent more likely to develop glaucoma, 12 percent more likely to have insomnia, and those who slept frequently during the day were 20 percent more likely to develop glaucoma.
For those who snored excessively, the rate was 4%.
The findings underscore the need for sleep therapy in high-risk groups and eye exams to check for early signs of glaucoma, the researchers said.
“If sleep behavior is modifiable, these findings underscore the need for sleep interventions in people at high risk for glaucoma,” they said.