Sleep, and plenty of it, is usually recommended as one of the top ways to help the body and our eyes recover from illnesses and other setbacks. But it’s not necessarily the right answer for glaucoma, an eye condition which moves from affecting peripheral vision only, to ultimately destroying the ability to see, says Gary Rodney, Australian behavioural optometrist and fellow of the International Academy of Orthokeratology and Myopia Control (FIAOMC). Instead, he says the wrong sleep could cause, and speed up this eye condition.
He says glaucoma comes in various forms and progresses very slowly, sometimes taking as much as 20 years to complete its damage to the optic nerve, a vital part of the communication system between the eyes and the brain, and the one that allows people to see.
But its slowness doesn’t make it any less of a threat, he says. Instead, with about 15 percent of those who have it eventually losing their vision even if they have had treatment, glaucoma is now considered to hold second place to cataract as the world’s top cause of blindness.
Glaucoma Seriousness Leads to Many Studies
Glaucoma’s second place position as a potential killer of sight has given rise to a large number of studies in the past few years in an attempt to discover more information about this eye condition, its causes, and how its development and progression is affected by its relationship with other eye problems and people’s behaviour patterns, including sleep.
“Glaucoma is the result of built-up pressure in the eyes caused by an imbalance between the production and drainage of aqueous fluid. And although the fluid production levels tend to drop during sleep, the imbalance isn’t necessarily rectified. Instead it can be exacerbated, and the intraocular pressure increased, if the body is in a position that blocks the drainage system still further, and it stays in that position for too long,” Rodney says.
How Sleeping Patterns Affect Glaucoma
Rodney says a US study which assessed glaucoma and its progression in close to 7,000 people, all in their 40s, has produced broad insight into the glaucoma/sleep relationship and how it affects the progression of the eye condition.
The study indicates that what makes the relationship between sleep and glaucoma complicated is that in order to control the progression of glaucoma, the sleep pattern also needs to be controlled. This requires careful planning based on how quickly (or slowly) a person falls asleep; what position that person sleeps in; and exactly how long the sleep lasts.
A Matter of Time
Sleep latency, or the time people take to fall asleep, holds the biggest threat for those who fall asleep almost instantly and those who take too long to do so. Those who fall asleep in 9 minutes or less after climbing into bed, as well as those on the other extreme, who take longer than half an hour to do so, face double the risk of getting glaucoma when compared with people who fall asleep within the middle zone (between 10 and 29 minutes).
However, Rodney says that the threats don’t stop there. The amount of time they stay closed also seems to affect the level of damage caused by glaucoma.
According to the study’s results those who have glaucoma, and once asleep, stay that way for 10 or more hours a night, treble their chances of optic nerve damage as a result of glaucoma. They also have three times the likelihood of missing areas of vision, in comparison with those who sleep for 7 hours.
Again, the same applies to those who only manage to sleep for three hours every night. They also face the same three-times odds on missing vision in comparison with the 7 hour a night sleepers.
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