Lack of sleep can damage stem cells in the cornea and can lead to impaired vision

Lack of sleep, i.e. getting too little quality sleep, is a serious health problem. More than a third of Americans report sleeping less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours per night. Lack of sleep has a negative impact on mental and physical health. In the case of lack of sleep, eye problems such as dryness and itching often occur, while prolonged sleep deprivation increases the risk of eye disease.

The cornea is the transparent front of the eye that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber. Together with the anterior chamber and lens, the cornea can refract light, which accounts for about two-thirds of the total light power of the eye. LASIK and other surgical techniques can reshape the cornea. The cornea is a layer of transparent tissue that covers the eye and is essential for ensuring the health and function of the eye. The cornea is maintained by stem cells, which divide to replace dying cells and repair small damages. The activity of corneal stem cells needs to be precisely adjusted to ensure that there is enough new corneal cell output, and the imbalance of corneal stem cells can lead to eye disease and impaired vision.

April 28, 2022, published inStem cell reportingIn one study, researchers from Xiamen University and Harvard Medical School in the United States evaluated the effects of sleep deprivation on corneal stem cells. Their experiments in mice showed that short-term sleep deprivation increased the rate at which corneal stem cells multiplied. At the same time, sleep deprivation altered the composition of the protective tear film, reducing the tear film antioxidant in sleep deprivation mice. The researchers found that the tear film component has a direct effect on the activity of corneal stem cells, and it is encouraging that the application of eye drops containing antioxidants can reverse the excessive activity of stem cells.

The microenvironment of the tear film is like the macro environment of the sea. It protects corneal-based epithelial stem cells from excessive exposure to reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the environment. There are many antioxidants present in the tear film, just like the diversity of marine life. Even brief lack of sleep disrupts the redox balance in the tear film, thus affecting the behavior of corneal subepithelial stem cells.

Studies have shown that after long-term sleep deprivation, corneal health can be seriously affected, such as thinning of the cornea, folds and decreased transparency. In addition, the corneas of mice with chronic sleep deprivation contained fewer stem cells, indicating that long-term sustained stimulation of stem cell activity led to corneal stem cell depletion and loss.

These data suggest that sleep deprivation can negatively affect corneal stem cells and may lead to impaired vision in the long run. Further research is needed to confirm whether a similar process occurs in human corneal stem cells and patients, and to test whether topical antioxidant therapies can overcome some of the negative effects of sleep deprivation on corneal health.

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