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Understanding the science behind sleepy eyes

IANS Mar 22, 2024

Many healthy individuals suffer from the problem of heavy eyelids which is usually due to fatigue lack of rest or spending too much time in front of the computer screens. A few eye allergies, infections, and medical conditions can also be responsible for causing heavy, droopy eyelids.

After a long day at work, we generally feel our eyelids getting heavier as if something is pulling them down. This may be after a day of intense exercise or when we spend hours staring at a computer screen in the office.

But what causes our eyes to get heavy when we feel tired and sleepy?

To understand this, we first need to understand the basic anatomy of the eye. The eyelids are comprised of thin layers of skin and muscles which play a crucial role in protecting the delicate structures of the eye from external elements like dust, debris, and bright light. They also greatly contribute to the overall appearance and expressiveness of the face.

The muscles around the eyes that hold our eyes in position, play a similar role to any other muscle of our body when it comes to experiencing fatigue after a long day of consistent use. In other words just like our arms and legs muscles grow leaden with extended use after a physically exhaustive day, similarly the muscles around our eyes also grow weary and experience fatigue.

This is particularly true for ocular and brow muscles since they are the most active during our waking hours. Therefore, in general, the heaviness of the eyelids in otherwise healthy individuals is due to fatigue that these muscles experience during the hours we are awake.

Various factors that are responsible for causing sleepy eyes are:

Muscle fatigue: After getting an insufficient amount of rest or a prolonged period of staying awake, the muscles around the eyes tend to become fatigued and weakened which can lead to a loss of tone and firmness in the eyelids causing them to droop or sag.

Reduced blood flow and stasis: The blood in the veins tends to pool, and the stasis causes the eyes to feel heavy, eye bags to appear under the eyes, and also dark circles to form due to the darker colour of the venous blood.

Stress and tension: Having a long screen time or intense visual focus such as working on a computer or reading for extended periods can strain the muscles around our eyes leading to feelings of fatigue and droopiness.

Facial Expressions: Beyond the physical changes to the eyelids themselves, sleepy eyes can also greatly affect our facial expressions and our overall appearance. When we're feeling tired, our facial muscles tend to slacken, leading to our expressions becoming less animated and lively.

All this can also occur as a result of ageing changes around the eyes. It may be accelerated by chronic exposure to the sun and also the harmful light from our gadgets! Deflation and decent of the tissues around the eyes make them look saggy and tired.

Treatment for sleepy eyes:

Massaging around the eyes: It can help release a lot of strain and make you feel instantly better. This can simply be done by using the tips of your fingers or using tools like the jade roller or the Gua Sha.

Get Adequate sleep: the best solution to combat the problem of sleepy eyes is to prioritise getting enough rest each night. One should aim to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep to allow our body and eyes to rest and rejuvenate completely.

Keep yourself hydrated: drink lots and lots of water throughout the day to keep yourself hydrated as dehydration can exacerbate the feelings of fatigue and heaviness in the eyes.

Take breaks from the screen: spending long hours in front of the screen, then you should take regular breaks to rest your eyes and reduce eye strain. One interesting exercise that one can do is practice the 20-20 rule where every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds to give your eyes a break.

Apply cold compresses: Apply a cold compress or chilled cucumber slices to the eyes for a few minutes to reduce puffiness and soothe tired eyes. The cold temperature helps to constrict blood vessels and reduce inflammation.

Impact of sleepy eyes on overall health:

Sleepy eyes can result in difficulty in staying alert, decreased productivity and even safety hazards like impaired driving. There can also be some significant impact on our physical and mental well-being. Prolonged periods of inadequate sleep can also contribute to mood disturbances, such as irritability, anxiety, and depression.

On the other hand, one may be completely rested, and yet their friends/ colleagues may comment that they look tired/ sleepy. This can have a significant impact on the confidence. In such cases one may consult an Oculoplastic and aesthetic surgeon, to find out the exact cause of this look and provide appropriate solutions.

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