Why Do Our Eyelids Feel Heavy When We’re Tired

It always seems to happen at the very worst of times; you’ve left your essay until the night before, you’re just settling into your desk  with 7 cups of coffee lined up next to your notes and bam – the inevitable hits you. Your eyes droop and there’s no amount of caffeine in the world that could prise them open again.
For many of us, it’s quite an odd sensation – of course our eyelids don’t actually get any heavier throughout the day, so why exactly is it that they can feel like lead weights by the evening?

What’s the reasoning?
The reason that our eyelids feel heavy and tired is much the same as in any other part of our body; muscle fatigue. The group of muscles which keep our eyelids open, including the frontalis, levator and Mullers might not have as much work to do as those bicep muscles, but then they’re considerably smaller and weaker too. The heavy, drooping feeling we experience is simply the final bout in a war of attrition similar to a workout session at the gym. All that blinking and gawking is bound to take its toll eventually.
What’s more is that it’s a self exacerbating problem. The heavier our peepers feel the harder it is to keep them fully open, and the harder it is to keep them fully open the less light gets through to them. As a consequence of the diminishing light conditions, our eyes have to strain even harder and tire themselves out quicker still – the reason your eyes often feel extra tired after prolonged periods of time spent doing things such as reading.
Why do we rub them to wake ourselves up?
It’s often the default reaction to rub our eyes when they begin to droop in the belief that it will revitalise them and wake us up.  In reality though we’re not actually waking them up at all – what we’re doing is seeking momentary reprieve from the discomfort.
The few of us who are lucky enough to have the option will confirm that the most relaxing thing to do after a session at the gym is to have a massage of those aching muscles, and that’s exactly what we’re doing when we rub our eyes – we’re massaging them to stimulate blood flow and wash away waste products which are produced by fatigue.
This is also part of the reason for our eyes looking puffy when we’re sleepy – regular muscle stimulation means an increased blood flow and more swelling (ever noticed your arms looking bigger after lifting weights?)
Can we get round the feeling?
The truth of it is that sadly no, we can’t escape it. Even worse, you might be one of the people who naturally experiences the feeling more than others. On the other hand, you might be in the lucky half who gets it less than most.
For no reason other than genetics, some people have naturally heavier eyelids than others, and that means they fatigue more quickly. Aging also results in more fatty deposits around the eye, and this additional fat tissue makes us more susceptible to drooping – so if your children are complaining you tire out too quickly you can be safe in the knowledge you’ve got a scientific excuse!

Rob writes for varifocal lenses experts Direct Sight.

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