If you're struggling to identify the cause of your sleepless nights, your eyes may hold the answer. If we don't expose our eyes to enough light (or if we expose them to the wrong type of light), sleep can become more difficult. And if our eyes aren't as healthy as they once were, our sleep can suffer, too.
Eye health for older adults
As we get older, our eyes, including the lenses, slowly start to yellow. This can reduce the amount of blue light reaching our retinas -- and blue light is exactly the type needed to regulate our circadian rhythm, or body clock.
A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology also found that cataracts can harm the quality of our sleep as we age.
Researchers found that elderly individuals (average age of 72) who had cataract surgery enjoyed a significant improvement in their sleep efficiency and spent less time awake during the night compared to those who had not had cataract surgery.
Cataracts reduce the amount of light that reaches the retina, so it makes sense that cataract surgery can help improve sleep as exposure to light is essential for a healthy sleep/wake cycle. The problems arise when we are exposed to excessive amounts of (usually artificial) light.
Eye health for teens and younger adultsAs mentioned, blue light is an important regulator of our sleep/wake cycle, but so much of our behavior in modern life is exposing our eyes to more blue light than ever before, mainly through electronic devices that use LED technology.** These devices include:**
- Cell phones
- Computer monitors
- Flat screen televisions
Excessive exposure to blue light (particularly at night) can weaken the circadian rhythm by reducing melatonin production.
Furthermore, electronic devices such as cell phones can disrupt sleep, as we are wakened by notification alerts and the urge to keep checking our phones for the latest status updates. This can be especially prevalent among children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens limit their exposure to entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day and that all screens should be removed from bedrooms.
Fortunately, there are a number of easy ways to reduce exposure to blue light and we can use what we know about the influence light has on our sleep to our advantage.
Exposure to natural light at the right time is very important; upon waking we should be exposing ourselves to as much natural light as possible to signal the body that it's time to fully awaken. In the evening, we should limit our exposure to light to signal the body that it's time to prepare for sleep. Even something as basic as dimming the lights in the evening can help.
Finally, we should take steps to make our bedrooms as dark as possible, using eye masks or blackout curtains, if necessary.
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Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free insomnia sleep training_ course. His online course teaches participants_how to fall asleep_ and stay asleep. Over 4,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 97 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend._