What Happens To Our Eyes When We're Asleep?

Ever watched the animation movie “Inside Out”? If you haven’t you should make it a family movie night soon, because what goes on in that movie is the same algorithm (I'm convinced) our eyes use when we go to sleep. The million-dollar question has always been, what goes on behind the scenes of our eyes when we sleep? So let’s find out together, shall we?

Whilst most people are aware of what happens to our bodies when we DO NOT get enough sleep, do we truly understand the impact this has on our eyes and vision? Getting enough sleep means we are much more alert, aware and rested when we wake up the next morning and usually have a much better day. Getting a good night's sleep means our eyes can stay moisturised and maintain a healthy ability to fight off infections- think of it like this, if you had 3 hours of sleep, you wake up dry and red-eyed and then those eye crusties fall into your eyes and now you cannot get it out, if your eyes were moisturised enough you wouldn’t suffer as much.

Just as sleep occurs in stages, so too does its impact on our eyes unfold.

The different stages of sleep:

There are 4 stages in total, and each one is placed in one of 2 categories, either, “NREM”- non-rapid eye movement or “REM”- Rapid eye movement. Sleep is determined by our brain activity, which is why busy minds like myself have a more difficult time falling asleep, whereas my partner can hit the pillow and he’s usually lights out.

Stage 1 (NREM): this is the “dozing off” stage and can last up to 5 minutes. In these first 5 minutes, you’re not fully asleep which means your body hasn't completely relaxed as yet. Your eyes tend to open and close, sometimes with a rolling movement. For most women, this is when they’re busy going through the "List”, so if you forgot to do something best to get out of bed now and get on with it, otherwise it'll be much more difficult later on.

Stage 2 (NREM): So now our bodies have overcome the transition from being fully awake to overcoming the initial stages of relaxation. Your muscles relax more, your body temperature drops a little, even your breathing slows down. Your heart rate even calms down and develops a calm rhythm. At this point, you’re done with making lists, your eyes have realised they should stay closed until sunrise, your brain activity has slowed down, but not completely, you can still be awoken in this stage by sudden bursts of noise/ activity. For most people, this process can last up to 25 minutes. However, there are people who, unknown to them, spend most of their sleep time during this phase.

Stage 3 (NREM): This is for my deep sleepers. Once you’ve reached this point good luck waking us up. By now your brain has developed a pattern and it’s during this phase that your body restores and recovers itself, building up your immune system as well.

 ● Stage 4 (REM): During this stage, your eyes do a lot of rolling and rapid movement, whilst still closed. Brain activity during this stage picks up so high it’s as if the person is still awake. Think of total paralysis of the body, except for the muscles that control your eyes and breathing. Think of a kid pretending to be asleep in the morning just to avoid school (only, you know they’re faking it big time). As bad as it all sounds, this stage of sleep is responsible for cognitive functions like creativity, learning and memory.

Although our eyes move a lot during our sleep, it is not yet known why they move so much whilst we are dreaming; Some people believe it's because we are busy watching the scenes of our dreams, like a built-in cinema.

What happens to your eyes when you don’t get enough sleep?

There are plenty of adverse effects because of simply depriving your body of a good sleep/ enough hours of sleep. When we’re awake our eyes go through a lot that we take for granted and don’t understand, the only time they can rest and restore is when we shut them off at night, so by not allowing them that time we cause ourselves the dry eye, burst blood vessels and strain the next morning. That’s just the beginning of our issues, here’s more:

● Puffiness,

● Dark circles,

● Light sensitivity,

● Dry eye disease,

● Eye infections, 

● Blurred vision.

Of course, if you're suffering from these symptoms - we have some solutions depending on the condition. For dry eye click here, and for dark circles or puffiness click here. For advice on any of the conditions and what other treatments we have available, contact us.

How to improve your eyes, with a good night's sleep?

For some, this is not as simple as just closing your eyes and not opening them till the next morning. Humans need at least 5 hours of sleep minimum every night for our eyes and bodies to recover from each day we spend awake. If you struggle to fall asleep at night, here are a few tips to help you get a better snooze, so you can improve your eye health:

● Avoid eating before going to bed: for the last 3 hours before you head to bed, make sure you put your digestive system to rest first by not consuming anything solid.

● Give thought to wearing an eye mask: this can help block out the light and put you into a sleep stage sooner.

● Although this might be difficult for some, try avoiding looking at screens and limit your light exposure at least 2 hours before you go to bed. This will relax your eyes and prepare them for sleep.

● What about waking up? As silly as this one sounds, no matter what time you end up going to bed the night before, make sure to wake up at the same time (as best as you can) every morning. This contributes to having a consistent bedtime routine and your body and brain will start getting the message.

● Consider wearing blue light glasses: these glasses will help block out the light that your devices give off, which will certainly contribute to a better night's sleep. Or you can take blue light protection supplements.

That’s the secret revealed, good sleep equals healthy eyes, so don’t deprive yourself.