Out like a light: sleep and the eye

29 October 2021
Autumn 2021

Heart attacks transiently increase in number when the clocks go forward. Diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma can interfere with the body’s sleep-wake cycles. Becky McCall examines the relationship between the eye and sleep.

Sleep is a vital component of good health and wellbeing, allowing the body to recharge and the brain to convert experiences into memories. And with the clocks due to change shortly, the benefits of good sleep and the detriments of poor sleep become even more evident as our exposure to light shifts, signalling the start of winter. 

Even a one-hour change can manifest in some serious health consequences. Our bodies can be extremely sensitive to the associated loss or gain in sleep. US researchers showed that the Monday after the clocks shift forwards by one hour, there is a 24% transient increase in acute myocardial infarction, while conversely, on the day following the clock’s one-hour shift backwards in October, a 21% reduction is seen (Sandhu et al, 2018). 

The pandemic has also had a negative impact on sleep-related health. This reflects the stress levels wrought by financial and health worries. A study of over 15,000 participants from researchers in Southampton indicated that lockdown led to a rise in the number of people suffering with sleeping problems from one in six (15.7%) of the sample to one in four (24.7%). Women and people of BAME heritage were most likely to come off worst (Falkingham et al, 2020).

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