How can you refresh tired eyes?

    How can you refresh tired eyes?

    If you’re asked about tiredness, you probably immediately think of struggling not to nod off after a late night. But tired eyes (or 'visual fatigue' to use the medical term) can lead to soreness or aching, eye irritation, watering or burning. And if this in turn leading to rubbing, the result can be puffy skin or dark circles under the eyes.

    What causes tired eyes?

    (Not) sleeping soundly

    Your eyes are part of your body, and your body needs sleep. The movements of your eyes are controlled by a complex mesh of muscles; messages from images focused on the back of your eyes are constantly sent to your brain through your optic nerve; and focusing also involves multiple tiny adjustments of the muscles that control the lens of your eye.

    Mental health problems, stress, family issues and being in pain can all affect your sleep – with such a broad spectrum of issues, it’s hardly surprising that so many adults struggles with insomnia.

    A sensitive surface

    Importantly, the surface of your eye has to be extremely thin and fragile to allow light through it. The trouble is, this delicate covering is constantly exposed to the elements when your eyes are open. You may think tears are confined to when you’re crying, but in fact there’s a constant film of tears which lubricates the delicate surface of your eyes. Not blinking fully or often enough can affect this tear film, leading to dry eyes.

    Digital devices

    These days, nearly 9 in 10 households have a computer and 95% a mobile phone, usually a smartphone: that makes digital device use the norm, rather than the exception. When you’re using a digital device, you tend to blink less often, setting off that vicious cycle of dry tired eyes, rubbing and puffiness. Reading for long periods can have the same effect, whether you’re reading a book or from a tablet.

    Thin skin

    The skin on your eyelids is the thinnest in the body, sometimes only 0.2 mm thick. The skin around your eyes is also relatively thin and delicate, making it prone to irritation and eczema or dermatitis. These in turn can cause puffiness and soreness.

    How can I relieve dry eyes?

    Get better rest

    There’s no easy solution to getting a better night’s sleep. As a GP, I wish there were – it’s one of the most common questions I’m asked about. Doctors very rarely recommend sleeping tablets, because of the health risks associated with them. But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to poor sleep forever. Improving your ‘sleep hygiene’ can make a real difference, and top tips include:

    • A trial of cutting out caffeine (either by switching completely to decaff, or by avoiding it for 6 hours before bedtime. Don’t forget that tea, many colas and chocolate, as well as coffee, contain caffeine.
    • Exercise regularly but avoid exercising in the evenings, as it can speed up your metabolic rate and make it hard to wind down.
    • Make sure your bedroom is really quiet and dark.
    • Remove ticking clocks and digital alarms which may tempt you to ‘clock-watch’.
    • Keep digital devices from the bedroom – there’s good evidence that ‘blue light’ emitted from mobile phones, tablets etc can disrupt your sleep pattern.
    • Avoid eating too late at night.
    • Try to get into a regular sleeping routine – don’t be tempted to sleep in if you’ve had a disturbed night’s sleep.
    • Avoid taking ‘catnaps’ during the day – these will leave you less tired at bedtime and can disrupt your body clock.

    Work on your computer etiquette

    As for digital devices, it very difficult in this day and age to avoid using them completely. However, if you use a computer, mobile phone or tablet:

    • Have your eyes checked regularly – squinting to focus on the screen can make symptoms worse.
    • Follow the '20-20-20 rule'. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.
    • Try to get into the habit of blinking regularly.
    • Take regular breaks from your computer or smartphone – maybe alternating computer work with jobs that don’t involve screen time.
    • Use lubricating eye drops, which can relieve symptoms such as tiredness, dryness and difficulty focusing if you’re using a computer for any length of time.

    Warmth and relaxation

    Applying a warm compress or eye mask may help relieve puffiness, redness and tenderness. Taking time out to lie back with your eyes closed and light blocked out, while the warmth takes effect, can also be a useful way of relaxing, encouraging you to wind down before bed.


    Date of preparation: June 2020. RB-M-05050