I’m nearsighted. Or myopic, as the doctor would say. And if you are too, I bet you remember your first pair of glasses.
I sure remember mine. I was a preteen, and when I stepped out of the optometrist’s office onto the street, I gasped, “Mom, I can see the leaves on the trees!”
The rest of the day was spent marveling at all the things that I’d never been able to see clearly that were now in sharp focus. Suddenly street signs and the television across the room were perfectly clear without squinting or getting super close to see them.
But in all my short-sighted years, I never made any connection between my inability to see objects at a distance and my frustrating sleep problems. Well, that is until now—more on that in a moment.
Sleep and I have always had a love-hate relationship. I crave it, and I get excited at the prospect of turning in for a good night’s sleep. But my body often has other plans leading to a frustrating night of tossing and turning as I try to get to… and stay… asleep.
And now a new study finds my myopia could literally be causing my poor sleep (and YOURS too).
Circadian rhythm helps regulate sleep
The new research out of Flinders University in Australia finds folks who are nearsighted are more likely to have poor quality sleep than their normal vision peers. And the researchers even figured out WHY.
It’s a strange revelation, for sure. I’m willing to bet having your VISION destroy your time in the sack wasn’t on your Bingo card of life. It sure wasn’t on mine.
But the new study reveals what’s behind this bizarre revelation. And it’s something I’ve talked about before here in Healthier Talk. It’s a circadian rhythm issue.
Now just to refresh your memory, your circadian rhythm is essentially your body’s internal “clock.” It operates on a 24-hour cycle and is constantly running in the background.
Your circadian rhythm helps regulate your sleep and wake cycles. It’s controlled largely by your exposure to light and dark and the so-called “sleep hormone” melatonin. And that’s where the new Aussie study comes in.
Researchers recruited 18 nearsighted volunteers and 14 normal vision folks. Devices were used at home to record everyone’s typical sleep patterns before visiting the lab.
Next, everyone headed in for a visit to the sleep lab. The participant’s circadian timing was accessed by measuring their melatonin levels in saliva and urine samples throughout the study period.
Myopia linked to poor quality shuteye
And that’s where the researchers spotted it. The myopic folks, like me, had a SIGNIFICANT difference in their dim light melatonin onset or DMSO.
Now that’s just a fancy way of referring to when the pineal glands in their brains started pumping out melatonin. And in the case of the nearsighted volunteers, it was a stunning one hour and 12 minutes LATER than the normal-vision folks.
But that’s not all. The myopic folks were ALSO producing less melatonin overall. Here’s why that matters so much.
In reaction to dim light in the evening, your body is supposed to start releasing melatonin. The hormone helps with the timing of your circadian rhythm and sleep. Melatonin levels ramp up so you can slip off to sleep and then drop back down in the morning when the bright light returns, and you need to be alert once again.
In other words, it looks like nearsighted folks are being shortchanged when it comes to sleep quality from start to finish. You may have trouble falling asleep in the first place because your body doesn’t start producing melatonin when it should. Then, once the hormone DOES kick in, those lower levels might lead to more tossing, turning, and waking up throughout the night.
And you probably don’t need me to tell you how vital good quality sleep is to your health. Not getting enough could send your risk for heart problems, immune issues, and even death soaring, as I wrote about recently here.
Now you may be stuck with those peepers of yours being poor vision producers. But that doesn’t mean you just have to accept poor quality sleep and the risks that come with it, too. Instead, you can stack the sleeping deck in your favor.
Stack the sleep deck in your favor
The obvious first step here is to consider taking a melatonin supplement. Our levels of the sleep hormone tend to drop with age as it is. And now we know if we’re nearsighted, those levels are likely even lower.
Melatonin is widely available online, or anywhere supplements are sold. I recommend looking for a sublingual liquid that can go to work faster.
Next, look for the melatonin muggers in your life and get rid of them. Artificial lights and blue-light emitting electronics such as your cell phone, computer, and tablet can wreak havoc with your circadian rhythm and melatonin production. They confuse your body, which then has a hard time telling day from night.
Now, obviously, you aren’t going to pull a Little House on the Prairie and get rid of all the lights and electronics in your home. But you CAN hedge your bets by turning off the electronics and dimming the lights at LEAST one hour before bed.
This should trigger photoreceptors in your eyes to send a message to the brain that it’s time to wind down and start producing melatonin. Plus, you can help reverse the effect in the AM by taking your coffee or tea on the front porch in the morning as I do.
If those steps don’t greatly improve the quality of your sleep, there are other natural sleep-supporting supplements you can try, such as chamomile, valerian, and saffron (which I wrote to you about just last week).
Just be sure to have a chat with a naturopathic or integrative medicine doc about which ones are best for you and what supplements you can take together.