Waking up: Tired eyes

Waking up: Tired eyes

During sleep, your eyes are replenished and refreshed with essential nutrients, and tired and dry eyes can be associated with lack of sleep. You can still wake up with eyes feeling strained or dry even after you’ve had a good night’s sleep. This article will explain why this occurs and what you can do to help prevent and treat it.

What happens to your eyes while you sleep?

You might assume that along with the rest of the body, the eyes are relaxed during sleep. For a portion of your sleep, you would be correct, but for certain periods of sleep, your eyes are getting more exercise than if you were up and awake.

  • The title is a bit of a giveaway. “Rapid Eye Movement” (REM) sleep is something most people experience between three and five times throughout the night. During this time the eyes flutter quickly from side to side. The amount of REM sleep we experience tends to decline as we age.
  • Non-REM sleep appears to be more relaxing than REM sleep, as it consists of slower brain waves, breathing and heart rate. During this form of sleep, the eyes don’t move but the brain may still be busy.

Why can your eyes feel tired or dry after a night’s sleep?

Eye tiredness can sometimes be a symptom of oversleeping. A group of cells in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus set your internal rhythms. They figure out when it’s morning and send out chemical messages to keep the rest of the cells in your body on the same clock, encouraging them to regulate their energy in sync. When you oversleep, you can confuse this biological clock and induce a sense of fatigue.

Dry eyes specifically, may be caused by meibomian gland dysfunction, or MGD. Meibomian glands are located in the eyelids and are responsible for releasing tear film, which prevents evaporation of moisture. Occasionally, these glands can become obstructed and MGD occurs. When awake, blinking and rotating, your eyeballs release oils out of these glands and spreads them across your eyes.

You may or may not be aware of this, but some people’s eyelids aren’t completely shut when they are asleep. This can be due to a variety of reasons, including inflammation, trauma or scarring. On the other hand, that's just the way some people sleep! However, it can result in a faster evaporation of tears while you're asleep, which can cause dryness.

Can you do anything to help prevent and treat it?

For those who may be experiencing tired eyes as a symptom of fatigue, the importance of maintaining a regular sleep pattern should be emphasised. Varying the times you go to bed and get up can confuse your body clock and your eyes, and your body as a whole may also suffer.

Avoiding the use of electronics or anything that emits artificial light before bed is also advised. As well as causing a strain on the eyes immediately before bed, the light can also deceive your brain into thinking it needs to stay awake and may disrupt your biological clock in the process.

Contact lenses are also a well-known cause of eye dryness. If you wear contacts throughout the day and only take them out before bed, your eyes may already be sore and dry as you are going to sleep. Minimising the amount of time spent wearing lenses, or applying a warm compress before sleep, can help alleviate this problem.

You can also help unclog the meibomian glands by applying warm compresses over the eyes to liquefy dried up discharge that can obstruct the glands.

Treatment of lid abnormalities can vary significantly, depending on their cause. As a result, anybody who suspects eye dryness due to their eyelids not closing completely during sleep is advised to consult an expert.

How to treat tired or dry eyes in the morning

Just as it can be used as a preventative measure, applying a warm compress over closed eyes can be an effective form of relief from tiredness and dryness in the morning. Again, your optician can advise you about any products that should be able to help you.

For eye dryness caused by a disturbed lipid layer of the tear film, Optrex Actimist 2in1 Dry & Irritated Eye Spray can help to relieve your eyes. This product stabilises the eye’s lipid layer, helping to lock in natural moisture. Suitable for those who don’t like the idea of drops going into their eyes as you simply spray this onto closed eyes. Optrex eye wash can help be used to cleanse the surface of the eyes and soothe tired eyes.

Learn more about how Optrex Actimist 2in1 Dry & Irritated Eye Spray can alleviate symptoms you may be suffering from, or to browse the whole Optrex range of products.