A new study out of Northern Ireland shows that people with nearsightedness (aka myopia) produce more melatonin than people with normal sight. Many ophthalmologists believe this new piece of information could help doctors better detect myopia in children.
Professors at Ulster University (UU) examined the rates of melatonin in 54 teens and young adults for 18 months. All of the melatonin rates in this study were collected between 8:30AM and 10AM. During this 18-month study, participants were asked to stop eating before 10PM each night.
Scientists found that the myopia patients had at least three times more melatonin than the people without myopia.
Professor Kathryn Saunders, a professor of optometry and vision science at UU, served as the lead author on this study. While the parents' genetics are undoubtedly important in predicting myopia in children, Dr. Saunders says this study proves there are many non-genetic factors that determine childhood myopia.
In an interview with local journalists, Dr. Saunders said, "Our research suggests that the body clocks' of the short-sighted adults in our study were different." She went on to say that this information could help eye doctors understand how our modern lifestyle could contribute to the "myopia boom" in children all around the world.
Myopia rates in children are at record levels in all developed nations, but especially in the Far East. Recent statistics show that around 90 percen of schoolchildren in nations like China, Japan, and Taiwan have some degree of myopia.
Many eye doctors have different theories about why more children are being diagnosed with myopia today. While genetics may play a part, other reasons include a lack of sunlight, nutrient-deficient diets, and overexposure to electronic screens.
This UU study is just the latest in a long line of research into the causes of the myopia boom. Former UU studies found that the longer a child stayed indoors, the higher the chance s/he would develop myopia. UU professors also found that the number of myopic students in the UK has doubled in the past 60 years.
Melatonin is a hormone that's produced in the brain's pineal gland. This hormone is incredibly important for helping us relax and fall into a deep REM sleep.
Scientists at UU hope to continue their research into the relationship between sleeping patterns and myopia. Some researchers believe that managing sleep patterns could be critical to helping children manage their myopia symptoms.
It's extremely important for parents to be proactive about getting their child checked out for myopia. Just a few of the warning signs that your child could have myopia include frequent eye rubbing, difficulty reading, and frequent headaches. A certified ophthalmologist should be able to determine whether your child has myopia with a standard vision test.
Children who have unaddressed myopia are at a higher risk of developing serious eye diseases like glaucoma later in life. Also, myopia can have serious effects on a child's performance at school and his/her emotional wellbeing.
UU was originally called Magee College when it was founded in 1865. Today, UU has around 19,000 undergraduates and 5,000 postgraduates. The university's main campus is on Cromore Road in the town of Coleraine.
You can read Dr. Saunders's entire study in the magazine Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics. This study is entitled, "Myopes have significantly higher serum melatonin concentrations than non-myopes."