Study finds link between sleep problems and glaucoma | Blindness and visual impairment

Sleeping too little or too much, snoring, daytime sleepiness and insomnia can all increase the risk of glaucoma, a common eye condition that affects millions of people and can lead to blindness, according to a decade-long study.

It is well known that poor sleep can affect judgment, mood, the ability to learn and retain information, and can increase the risk of accidents and serious injuries.

Today, researchers are focusing on the long-term consequences of poor sleep. They conducted the world’s first large prospective cohort study to comprehensively examine sleep behaviors and patterns and glaucoma. It involved over 400,000 people in the UK.

The findings, published in the journal BMJ Open, suggest that people who have unhealthy sleeping habits have an increased risk of developing glaucoma. It can lead to vision loss if not diagnosed and treated early. Glaucoma will likely affect 112 million people worldwide by 2040.

“Snoring, daytime sleepiness, insomnia and short/long duration, individually or in combination, were all associated with the risk of glaucoma,” concluded the international team of academics, led by researchers from Beijing, China. .

“These results highlight the need for sleep intervention for people at high risk for glaucoma as well as potential eye screening in people with chronic sleep problems for the prevention of glaucoma.”

The researchers said the study underscores the critical importance of adopting and maintaining healthy sleep habits and behaviors. The findings also underscore the need for sleep therapy in people at high risk for glaucoma as well as eye checks in people with chronic sleep disorders to check for early signs of the disease, they added.

Characterized by progressive loss of light-sensitive cells in the eye and damage to the optic nerve, the causes of glaucoma are still poorly understood. Untreated, it can lead to irreversible blindness.

Previously published research had suggested that sleep disturbances may be an important risk factor.

To dig deeper into these questions, researchers set out to examine the risk of glaucoma in people with different sleep behaviors: insomnia; too much or too little sleep; nocturnal or morning chronotypes (“owls” and “larks”); Daytime sleepiness; and snoring.

The research looked at data from 409,053 people taking part in the UK Biobank study.

People aged 40 to 69 were recruited for the study between 2006 and 2010 and were followed until March 2021 to see if they had been diagnosed with glaucoma. Information about their sleep habits was collected during their participation in the study.

Normal sleep duration was defined as between seven and nine hours, with too little or too much defined as being outside this range. The person’s chronotype was defined according to whether they described themselves more as a morning lark or a night owl.

During an average follow-up period of nearly 11 years, 8,690 cases of glaucoma were identified. Except for the chronotypes, the other four sleep patterns and behaviors were all associated with varying degrees of increased risk for glaucoma, the BMJ Open said.

Researchers found that compared to people who had a healthy sleep pattern, snoring and daytime sleepiness led to an 11% increased risk of glaucoma. Meanwhile, insomnia and getting too much or too little sleep were linked to a 13% increased risk.

The study was observational, so a cause cannot be established. It also relied on self-report rather than objective measurement, the researchers acknowledged. Glaucoma itself might influence sleep patterns, rather than the other way around, they added.

But there are plausible biological explanations for the associations found between sleep disturbances and glaucoma, the researchers said.

Internal eye pressure, a key factor in the development of glaucoma, increases when a person lies down and when sleep hormones go haywire, as happens in insomnia, they explained.

Depression and anxiety, which often go hand in hand with insomnia, can also increase internal eye pressure. Similarly, episodes of low cellular oxygen levels, caused by a sudden cessation of breathing during sleep, could directly damage the optic nerve, it has also been suggested.

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