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Poor sleep increases your risk of developing glaucoma

Posted on June 20th, 2023

Poor sleep is a common problem affecting millions of people around the world. Many factors can contribute to poor sleep quality, from busy work schedules to increasing reliance on electronic devices.

And while poor sleep may seem like a relatively minor issue, it can have serious consequences on people’s health. One of the risks associated with poor sleep is the development of glaucoma, a condition that can cause irreversible eye damage. 

What is glaucoma? 

Glaucoma is a progressive optic neurodegenerative disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve, which is responsible for carrying visual information from the eye to the brain. 

There are two types of glaucoma: 

  1. Open-angle glaucoma – This is the more common type. It accounts for around 70% of all cases. Open-angle glaucoma typically develops slowly over time. Its symptoms may not be noticeable until the disease has progressed significantly. 
  2. Angle-closure glaucoma – This type occurs when the iris is too close to the eye’s drainage angle, resulting in a blockage. When the drainage angle becomes fully blocked, eye pressure rises rapidly, causing an “acute attack,” for which urgent medical care is required to prevent blindness. 

What causes glaucoma? 

Research shows that increased pressure within the eye plays a significant role in causing glaucoma. Other risk factors for developing glaucoma include…

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Medical conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure

Recent studies have also suggested that poor sleep quality may increase people’s risk of glaucoma. 

How poor sleep can lead to glaucoma 

A study published in the Journal of Glaucoma found an association between sleep problems and glaucoma. The study consisted of 6,700 participants, all of whom were from the United States, over 40, and glaucoma patients. All participants also showed signs of optic nerve damage as well as some vision loss caused by glaucoma. 

As part of the study, participants responded to surveys about their sleep quality. The surveys asked questions about…

  • The amount of time they slept
  • Any difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep 
  • The use of sleep medication 
  • Any diagnosed sleep disorders, including sleep apnea 
  • Feelings of daytime sleepiness

At the end of the study, researchers found that…

  • Participants who slept for ten hours or more a night were three times more likely to have optic nerve damage caused by glaucoma than participants who got seven hours of sleep a night. 
  • Participants who slept for either ten hours or more or three hours or less a night were three times more likely to have vision loss than participants who slept for seven hours a night. 
  • Participants who fell asleep either very quickly (in under nine minutes) or after thirty minutes were twice as likely to have glaucoma than participants who fell asleep between ten and twenty-nine minutes. 
  • Participants who experienced daytime sleepiness and trouble concentrating were three times more likely to have vision loss than participants who didn’t report feeling tired during the day. 

In a narrative review published in the Oman Journal of Ophthalmology, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was said to be one of the “systemic risk factors of glaucoma.” In OSA patients with no history of glaucoma, studies have shown…

  • Thinning of the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL)
  • Changes in the optic nerve head 
  • Choroidal and macular thickness 
  • Reduced visual field sensitivity 

So why does OSA and poor sleep increase the risk of developing glaucoma? 

One theory is that poor sleep quality can lead to increased intraocular pressure, which is a key risk factor for glaucoma. When people sleep, their bodies enter a state of relaxation. This can cause the body’s tissues to swell slightly. This includes tissues found in the eyes. And tissue swelling in the eye can increase pressure within the eye. 

Additionally, poor sleep quality can lead to inflammation throughout the body, including in the eyes. Inflammation is a known risk factor for a variety of diseases, including glaucoma. When the eyes are inflamed, damage can occur to the option nerve, which can lead to glaucoma. 

How to reduce the risk of developing glaucoma

To reduce your risk, you need to consistently get high-quality sleep. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, although individual needs may vary. 

If sleep is a struggle, try these tips…

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule (i.e. go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning) 
  • Avoid using electronic devices (e.g. television, computer, smartphone) close to bedtime
  • Creating a relaxing sleep space (it should be cool, dark, and quiet) 

If you have a high risk of developing glaucoma, you should have regular eye exams. Early detection and treatment can help prevent visual loss and other complications. Your eye doctor can perform a variety of tests to check for signs of glaucoma. These tests include measuring the pressure within your eye and examining the optic nerve. 

If you make healthy lifestyle choices to improve your sleep and visit an eye doctor, you can protect your vision and maintain good eye health. 

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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