|I believe that one of the best ways to get to better answers is to ask better questions. Since sunglasses are meant to help reduce the risk of eye disease, and the vast majority of Americans wear sunglasses on the regular, we should see a decrease in eye disease over the years, right?!
On the contrary…
Glaucoma incidence has risen from 2.7 million in 2011 to just under 4 million in 2020. In just a few years time, from 2018-2020, macular degeneration numbers went from 1.8 million to just under 3 million. In that same amount of time, cataracts incidence has gone from 20.5 million to just over 30 million.
Now, it may seem like I have a vendetta against sunglasses. However, this essay is not about sunglasses at all. On the contrary, this essay is about eye health and how that impacts YOUR overall health. And what these statistics show us is that our eye health is not getting any better, even though we’re “following the rules” and protecting our eyes from the supposed villain, the sun.
So, in order to know what good eye health looks like, we have to ask the question…what are our eyes meant to do? On the surface, the eyes are meant for one particular thing…vision. But there is much more to vision than meets the eye (wow, really throwing out the puns today!).
You see, your eyes are part of your central nervous system (CNS), which is the part of your internal body that controls…well…your body. For those of you who don’t know, the master controller of your CNS is the brain. So, quite literally, your eyes are part of your brain (pretty cool, huh?).
Now, because your eyes are the only part of your CNS, or brain if you will, that are on the outside of the body, they are the only way for sunlight to be passed into the body, allowing it to send signals to the CNS and other internal organs. This is important because the CNS dictates what is called your circadian rhythm. Every human being on earth runs on relatively the same circadian rhythm, which is simply the body’s natural 24-hour clock.
As you can imagine, light has a HUGE impact on the circadian rhythm. As a matter of fact, the body’s internal clock is literally set by the rise and fall of the sun. And the only way the body knows if the sunning has come up or is going down is, you guessed it, by the light transmitted through your eyes. Without this natural light exposure, your internal clock gets thrown off.
When your circadian rhythm is not in alignment with the natural ebb of flow of the sun, a few things can happen. First, it’s highly likely that your sleep will be disrupted. The body should naturally wake up and get sleepy as the sun rises and falls. But if it’s not exposed to the sun (because you’re too busy looking cool with your sunglasses), then the body doesn’t know when to start feeling tired.
In the same sense, an altered circadian clock can cause weight gain and increase the risk of weight-related diseases. This happens because, surprise surprise, your circadian rhythm and eating rhythm are inextricably linked. In other words, when you’re body is in rhythm with the sun, it has a natural hunger pattern that it will follow. However, when the internal clock is off, your hunger patterns are thrown off and eating can become disordered.
So, if light is necessary for a good circadian rhythm, and lack of natural light causes disruptions in this rhythm, then what can we do to start to align ourselves with the natural ebb and flow of the sun?