How poor sleep affects the risk of glaucoma

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

Sleeping badly can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of accidents and injury.

Now researchers focusing on the long-term consequences of poor sleep have conducted the world’s first large prospective cohort study to look at how sleep behaviours and patterns affect glaucoma.

It involved more than 400,000 people in the UK.

The results, published in the journal BMJ Open, suggest that people who have unhealthy sleep patterns have an increased risk of developing glaucoma.

This can lead to a loss of vision if not diagnosed and treated early. Glaucoma will likely affect 112 million people worldwide by 2040.

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

New research suggests that sleep disorders may be a risk factor for glaucoma.

“These findings underscore the need for sleep intervention for those at high risk of glaucoma as well as potential ophthalmologic screening among individuals with chronic sleep problems for glaucoma prevention.”

Characterised by progressive loss of light-sensitive cells in the eye and optic nerve damage, the causes of glaucoma are still poorly understood.

Left untreated, it can lead to irreversible blindness.

Previous research had suggested that sleep disorders may be an important risk factor.

The researchers examined the risk of glaucoma among people with different sleep behaviours: insomnia; too much or too little sleep; night or morning chronotypes (“owls” or “larks”); daytime sleepiness; and snoring.

The research examined data from 409,053 people from the UK Biobank study.

Those aged 40 to 69 were recruited between 2006 and 2010 and were followed up until March 2021. Normal sleep duration was defined as between seven and nine hours.

During a follow-up of almost 11 years, 8,690 cases of glaucoma were identified.

With the exception of chronotypes, the other four sleep patterns and behaviours were all associated with heightened glaucoma risk, the BMJ Open said.

Compared with people who had a healthy sleep pattern, snoring and daytime sleepiness carried an 11% increased risk of glaucoma, while insomnia and too much or too long sleep showed a 13% increased risk.

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