Why we lose sleep as we age
Washington: A natural yellowing of the eye lens that absorbs blue light, discolours with age, which significantly increases the risk of developing sleep disorders, according to a new study.
“The strong link between lens yellowing and age could help explain why sleep disorders become more frequent with increasing age,” said Line Kessel, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s lead author.
In the Danish study, 970 volunteers had their eyes examined by lens autofluorometry, a non-invasive method for determining how much blue light is transmitted into the retina.
Blue light is a portion of the visible-light spectrum that influences the normal sleep cycle by helping initiate the release of melatonin in the brain.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps signal to the body when it is time to be sleepy or alert.
Volunteers were considered to have a sleep disorder if they confirmed that they “often suffer from insomnia” or if they purchased prescription sleeping pills within the last 12 months.
Of those classified as having a sleep disturbance, 82.8 percent affirmed that they both suffered from insomnia and used sleep medication.
Using this data, researchers calculated an inverse relationship between blue light transmission and the risk of having sleep disturbances: the lower the blue light transmission into the retina due to a yellowing of the eye lens, the greater the risk of sleep disturbances.
“The results showed that while age-related lens yellowing is of relatively little importance for visual function, it may be responsible for insomnia in the elderly,” said Kessel, a senior scientist in the Department of Opthalmology at Glostrup Hospital in Denmark.
Significantly, higher rates of sleep disorders were reported by older participants, women, smokers, and those with diabetes mellitus.
“The association between blue light lens transmission and sleep disturbances remained significant even after we corrected for age, sex, diabetes mellitus, smoking and the risk of ischemic heart disease,” Kessel said.
The study was recently published in the journal Sleep.