Sleep deprivation may increase the risk of eye disease

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Sleep deprivation can cause dry and sore eyes in the long run, as well as more serious problems. Osaka Wayne Studios/Getty Images
  • Scientists recently studied the impact poor sleep can have on the eyes in a trial involving mice.
  • They learned that sleep deprivation can cause the cornea to lose its ability to repair itself, which can lead to problems such as dry eyes.
  • The researchers also found that antioxidant eye drops can help repair the damage caused by sleep deprivation.

Although scientists know that sleep deprivation has a negative effect on the body, they are still investigating how it affects various organs.

Researchers from China and the US recently published a study in Stem Cell Reports about how poor sleep can affect the eyes. They found that sleep deprivation can affect both the stem cells in the cornea and the tear film surface of the cornea.

Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis is important, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of adults do not get enough sleep. Doctors recommend that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.

The CDC reports that insufficient sleep can cause a host of health problems, such as a higher risk of: obesitydevelop diabetes mellitusand high bloodpressure.

Part of the problem that contributes to so many people not getting enough rest is a sleep disorder. The National Institutes of Health reports that about 40 million Americans have a sleep disorder.

Some sleep disorders include:

  • sleep apnea
  • Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Insomnia
  • Narcolepsy

For those who do not have a sleep disorder, the best way to get adequate sleep regularly is to practice good sleep hygiene. People can achieve this by going to bed at the same time every night, avoiding screens 1-2 hours before bedtime, and not drinking alcohol before bed.

The researchers in this study used mice to learn more about how sleep deprivation affects the eyes.

The researchers were interested in finding out to what extent sleep deprivation can affect the stem cells in the cornea.

The cornea is the transparent front window of the eye with an overlying tear film that acts as a barrier that helps protect the eye from infection and keeps the eyes comfortable.

Like dr. Neil Neimark, a certified primary care physician in functional medicine who uses stem cell therapy in his practice, noted in a TEDx Talks podcast, stem cells have “healing power” and “all tissue repair in the body is initiated by stem cells.”

The researchers of the current study assessed gene expression in the mice after 2 days of sleep deprivation and then after 10 days of sleep deprivation.

At the 2-day point, the researchers found that 287 genes were significantly upregulated and 88 downregulated in the corneas. At the 10-day point, they saw 272 significantly upregulated genes and 150 downregulated genes.

The authors tested the mice after 1 and 2 months of further sleep deprivation and found that the transparency of the cornea was reduced and the surface of the eye was rough.

Although stem cells were upregulated early in the sleep-deprived mice, this eventually led to what the authors termed an “early manifestation of limbal stem cell deficiency.” After being upregulated for so long, the stem cells became depleted.

“Short-term consequences of insufficient sleep or delayed sleep cause ocular discomfort, including eye dryness, pain, itching and hyperemia,” the authors note.

Despite these issues, the authors noted that treating mice with damaged corneas with eye drops containing antioxidants helped restore the mice’s eye health.

dr. Howard R. Krauss, a surgical neuro-ophthalmologist and director of Neuro-Ophthalmology for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, who was not involved in the study, spoke to Medical news today about the findings.

“The design of the study was to study chemical and cellular changes in the ocular surface of sleep-deprived mice, indeed revealing deleterious effects, which shed light on mechanisms that may play a role in human symptoms and disease,” said Dr. . said Krauss.

Although Dr. Krauss thought the study was helpful in showing how sleep deprivation could potentially affect people, he noted.

“A weakness of the study is the methodology by which sleep deprivation is caused in mice, which are caged, perched on sticks to stay above a water-filled bottom – when the mouse falls asleep, it falls into the water, immediately becomes wakes up, and climbs back on the stick,” Dr. Krauss explained.

dr. Krauss said the method used to induce sleep deprivation raises the question of how much of the chemical and cellular change they observed “was purely secondary to sleep deprivation and how much may be a stress response to the way sleep deprivation evolved.”

“Nevertheless, the study draws our attention to sleep deprivation and makes us think that the magnitude of the harmful effects of sleep deprivation is far [broader] than we realize,” he said.

“As such, the human need for sleep to maintain good health is becoming more apparent every day.”
— Dr. Howard R. Krauss

Sleep deprivation may increase the risk of eye disease

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