New Study Finds Glaucoma and Sleep Problems are Connected

A new study links sleep problems with glaucoma, a leading cause of vision loss and blindness among United States adults.

Glaucoma and Circadian Rhythm

Michael V. Boland, M.D., Ph.D., Director of Information Technology and Associate Residency Program Director at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University, specializes in glaucoma and glaucoma surgery. He recently co-authored a study that suggests poor sleep could be either a risk factor or a result of glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a family of eye diseases that elevates inner eye pressure to dangerous levels and can damage the optic nerve. Deterioration of the optic nerve can lead to permanent vision loss or even blindness. Researchers have established a connection between chronic high eye pressure and damage to ganglion cells in the retina, which are hypothesized to impact circadian rhythm and sleep.

Analyzing Sleep Dysfunction and Glaucoma

To investigate the hypothesized connection between ganglion cell loss and poor sleep, Boland examined data from the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Boland reviewed responses from the nearly 4,500 survey participants: some with glaucoma, some with vision loss and some with no vision problems. Patients answered questions about sleep medication, sleep duration, sleep disorders, sleep disturbances and daytime drowsiness.

The results of the study established a connection between glaucoma and long and short sleep duration. Glaucoma was three times more prevalent in participants who slept ten or more hours per night compared to participants who slept seven hours per night.

Boland discovered patients with glaucoma were more likely to fall asleep very quickly or take longer to fall asleep. Glaucoma was more prevalent in patients who fell asleep in nine or fewer minutes or patients who fell asleep in 30 minutes or more. There was also a connection between glaucoma and pronounced daytime sleepiness.

Poor Sleep Quality Does Not Always Indicate Glaucoma

Sleep problems and glaucoma are not always related, but it is important to consult a doctor to help resolve sleep issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declares insufficient sleep a “public health problem.” According to SleepHealth.org, between 50 to 70 million Americans experience poor sleep.

Sleep disorders are common among both genders and all ages and socioeconomic levels, and sleep deprivation can cause chronic health concerns. Poor sleep can lead to heart disease, accidents, hypertension, septicemia, cerebrovascular disease and diabetes.

Boland intends to continue researching the connection. He encourages more communication between physicians and patients.  In an interview with Ocular Surgery News, Boland explained, “Ophthalmologists may want to consider asking their glaucoma patients about their sleep quality.”

Currently, glaucoma affects more than three million Americans, but many are unaware they are developing glaucoma because the condition often has no noticeable symptoms in the early stages. This is why glaucoma is sometimes called the sneak thief of sight. Early diagnosis and early intervention are imperative to minimize optic nerve damage and preserve vision.

Make an Appointment for a Comprehensive Eye Exam

Are you struggling with poor sleep, frequent waking at night, daytime fatigue or forgetfulness? It is probably time to call your ophthalmologist. A comprehensive eye exam can provide you with a full evaluation of your vision health. Your eye doctor will check your prescription and test you for degenerative eye conditions like cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Make healthy vision a priority by scheduling an appointment today.