How is vision loss linked to sleep disruption?
Sleep and biological daily rhythms (circadian rhythms) are essential to maintaining the healthy balance and functioning of the mind and body, including daytime alertness and sleep timing. Part of our brain acts as the master internal body clock and keeps our body in line with the 24-hour day. One of the main ways it does this is through light perception. During the day when there’s bright light, our brain is telling the body that it’s time to be awake. Then, during the night, when it’s dark, our brain tells the body that it’s time to sleep.
For visually impaired people, this process is often disrupted due to a reduction or total loss of light information reaching the brain through the eyes. This makes it much harder for the internal body clock to stay in line with the 24-hour day and as a result, visually impaired people often experience sleep disruption.
Sleep tips for individials with vision impairment
These tips are for all visually impaired people, whether you have some light perception, or none at all:
- Keep to a sleep schedule: Try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends (after a late night, it might be tempting to ‘catch up’ on sleep by waking up later on the weekends, but this may make it harder to sleep that evening).
- Try to set a bedtime that allows you to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night.
- Create a sleep friendly bedroom – is it dark enough? Is your bed comfortable? Is it too hot? Is it too cold? Make sure it’s the perfect environment for sleeping.
- Limit your caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine intake in the evening.
- Try to keep a ‘wind down routine’ – set aside time every evening to relax and get ready for bed. This could include diming the lights in your home, reading, meditation, writing a diary, or whatever works for you.
- Try to avoid long naps during the day as this may make it more difficult to sleep at night. If you do need to nap, try to limit it to around 20 minutes.
- Maintain a healthy diet, try to keep your blood sugar in check and drink plenty of water during the day.
- Keep active – exercise your body and mind during the day but avoid physical exercise close to bedtime.
- Try to eat meals at regular times and avoid eating a big meal within 4 hours of going to bed. If you’re hungry at night, try having a healthy, light snack, such as a piece of fruit.
- Keep your bed as a place for sleeping and intimacy only – avoid watching tv, eating, and studying in bed. This will help to create a strong link in your mind between ‘bed’ and ‘sleep’.
- To promote your ‘bed-sleep’ connection, try following the quarter-of-an-hour rule: if you’re still awake after about 15 minutes of trying to sleep, try getting out of bed, going to another room and going through your wind down routine until you are feeling sleepy and ready to return to bed. If you have difficulties sleeping, it’s likely that you spend lots of time in bed awake. This means that you might come to associate your bed with being awake, frustrated, or anxious about sleep.
For people who have some light perception, these tips might also help:
- Increase your exposure to morning daylight: Exposure to bright light for 30-60 minutes when you first wake up will help energize you for the day, and help to keep your body clock in order. A regular morning walk routine, especially in the winter months, can help to keep your sleep structured and improve your night time sleep.
- Dim light in the evening: Try to avoid bright light in the evenings and limit your use of electrical devices, such as smart phones and tablets, as they give off bright light.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced by the body. It’s released by the brain during hours of darkness at night. It’s involved in the promotion of sleep and helps regulate the internal body clock. During the day, bright light causes the production of melatonin to stop.
Melatonin has been used to treat sleep disorders that are caused by the disruption of the internal body clock, but it is important to note that it doesn’t work for everyone. If you do choose to take melatonin as a treatment for poor sleep, it’s important to take the right amount of melatonin at the right time. It is recommended to take melatonin 1-2 hours before bedtime, after eating food.
We recommend you speak to your healthcare professional to determine if taking melatonin is right for you. You should be aware that melatonin may not be suitable for everyone. Tell your doctor if:
- You’ve had an allergic reaction to melatonin, or any other medications in the past.
- You have liver or kidney problems.
- You have rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or lupus, or any other autoimmune condition
Please note, you should always speak to your doctor before taking any medication.
Dealing with fatigue
If you’re experiencing disrupted sleep, it’s likely you’ll be feeling fatigued during the day. Here are some tips to help combat fatigue:
- Eat often to beat tiredness – try eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day rather than eating large meals less frequently.
- If you’re feeling exhausted, then exercise might be the last thing on your mind. However, regular exercise can make you feel more energized and can also help you to sleep better at night. Even a 15-minute walk can give you an energy boost.
- Feeling stressed uses up a lot of energy – try introducing relaxing activities into your day. Things like going for a walk, reading a book, and meditation can all help you to relax.
- Watch your caffeine intake – If you’re feeling tired it might be tempting to have a cup of coffee, however, too much caffeine may be having a effect on your nighttime sleep, thus worsening your sleepiness during the day.
- Cut down your alcohol consumption – you sleep less deeply after drinking alcohol, so you might still feel tired even after getting 8 hours of sleep.
- Stay hydrated – drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help keep your energy levels up.
- Rule out health problems – fatigue is a common symptom of a number of health problems such as diabetes, heart problems, arthritis and sleep apnoea. Some medications can also cause tiredness, so it’s worth checking with your doctor.