5 Causes of Tired-looking Eyes (And How to Deal With Them)

If you find that you are spending more and more money for the perfect under-eye concealer, or treatments to combat puffiness in your face, you should look at the root causes.

It turns out that there are a number of factors and causes that lead to tired looking eyes: too little sleep, allergies, spending too much time in front of digital screens, and over-exposure to bright light.

Most of the time, tired eyes are simply a sign of muscle fatigue. But in some instances, the eyes may look tired, but you may not be tired.

The truth is, a lot of people have dark circles or puffy eyes. And though there’s nothing wrong with that, many of us are looking for ways to minimize them. While they are often hallmarks of a lack of sleep, there are other causes that have nothing to do with how many zzz’s we catch (or don’t catch) each night. In fact, you might have another health concern or lifestyle habit causing your tired-looking eyes that you may want to address.

It is usually quite easy to pinpoint the cause of your tired eyes. Below are a few common reasons for swollen, droopy eyes and heavy eyelids.

#1 Lack of sleep

They don't call it beauty sleep for nothing. Lack of sleep can have troublesome consequences on your body composition, ability to function and overall facial appearance.

During sleep (or long periods of lying down), tissue fluid is drawn from our blood and enters our body tissues. As we start our morning activities, the tissue fluid is squeezed back into lymphatic vessels and into our blood circulation. That's why your face may look a little puffy when you first wake up, but by the time you're out of the shower, the puffiness will have resided.

When we don't get enough sleep, however, this process is stunted and fluid is stuck in the tissues – creating the puffy look. As well, a sleepless night can make skin look pale and blood vessels more visible, giving the appearance of dark circles. Regular insufficient sleep may result in persistent eye irritation and weaken your vision.

Without a good night’s sleep, your eyes may look tired no matter what you do. So, to get rid of eye puffiness, redness and dark circles around the eyes, prioritize sleep! Getting a full 8 hours of sleep is essential for your health in general and will help to prevent the ever-dreaded puffy-eye in the AM. Sleep allows your eyes to fully rest, repair, and recover.

#2 Allergies

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you are probably no stranger to puffy eyes. This type of puffy eye will best be remedied by a discussion with your doctor, who can advise you whether or not an anti-histamine might be right for you.

But you may not be aware of an allergy that only affects the eyes, because most people associate allergies with sneezing or itching. Dust and pet dandruff can find their way to your eyes by getting onto your hands. When some airborne irritant causes you to instinctively rub your eyes, the allergen then gets in and leaves your eyes red and often itchy.

Also, some of the allergies may be due to food you’ve eaten. Many of us tend to consume the same foods day after day with little variety. This may lead to our bodies becoming "sensitized" to some foods, which can result in myriad symptoms that are surprisingly not always digestive in nature.

One of the key signs is an overall sensation of puffiness and increased water retention or dark circles under the eyes. In fact, many patients are thrilled that this resolves itself once the culprit food is removed.

To determine if this is your beauty solution, simply remove the most common allergenic foods, including sugar, dairy, yeast, peanuts, corn, soy, alcohol, red meats, gluten-containing grains, citrus and caffeine, from your diet for a two-week time period.

After two weeks, you can begin to add in one food item per day to test your reaction to it. If symptoms return, you know that particular food should be excluded from your daily diet.

Doctors explain that allergies release a chemical—histamine—that can dilate blood vessels, leading to increased blood flow under the eyes. Histamine also causes itchiness, which can also cause swelling, inflammation and fluid accumulation under the eyes, leading to dark circles and a tired appearance of the eyes, particularly after rubbing or scratching your eyes.

This puffiness associated with allergies can be treated fairly easily with over-the-counter antihistamine medications, as well as nightly cold compresses to reduce swelling.

#3 Eye strain

We live in a digital age, which means computers, smartphones and TVs all the time. What many people don’t realize is that all of this exposure can tire out your eyes, leaving them looking and feeling less-than-wonderful.

If you stare at a computer screen all day—or if you’re resisting getting glasses, and find yourself squinting to see far-away signs or while reading—you might be straining your eyes, and, surprisingly, that could actually show on your face. The increase in eye strain causes the blood vessels around the eye to dilate. This increase in blood flow can exacerbate the appearance of dark circles and tired eyes.

Straining to read the tiny text on your cell phone may be the reason your eyes hurt day after day — especially if you're doing this for hours on end. It could also lead to blurred vision, dry eyes, dizziness, and nausea.

In fact, looking at any type of screen (especially right before bed in the dark), including your cell phone, e-reader, television, and computer, is bad for you. The levels of light are changing rapidly, so your eyes have to work hard to process the changes, which can lead to eyestrain, pain, headaches, dry eye, and redness.

The symptoms that accompany eye strain from computer use have been summed up as Computer Vision Syndrome: “Computer Vision Syndrome is by far the most prevalent [workplace ergonomic issue], affecting an estimated 150 to 200 million Americans, or 90 percent of computer users who work more than three hours a day on the computer.”

The quick fix for this: go off the grid! This can be a great time for you to enjoy some fresh air outside, reconnect with good friends over dinner, or take a quick and much-needed cat nap!

For computer users: try placing the screen 20 – 26 inches away from your eyes and a little below eye level. Regularly clean dust and fingerprints from the screen, and consider using a glare filter over your screen.

Try giving your eyes a break from the computer screen by following the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. And it may be time for a pair of glasses.

#4 Dehydration

Many of us have a goal to drink more water every day—a goal that seems shockingly hard to meet. Dehydration is not only dangerous for our health and a total productivity killer, but it can also make us feel tired and lead to tired-looking eyes, even after eight hours of sleep.

Dehydration decreases your blood volume and makes your heart work less efficiently, leading to exhaustion. The skin around the eyes is very sensitive to hydration and the environment.

Puffiness can also arise if you’ve had too much alcohol, which can leave you dehydrated—that leads to water retention, which in turn leads to swelling in the face. Alcohol could cause your body to get dehydrated and make your eyes puffy, which can also retain water in your eye area, gives them a little puffiness.

As a result, puffiness is often worse in the morning and resolves itself by the afternoon as the accumulated fluid drains with the help of gravity and time. Staying hydrated is key for tear production and keeping eyes well-lubricated.

Also, make sure to skip foods high in sodium, which can dehydrate your body.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your sodium intake to under 2,000 milligrams per day. When going out with friends, hydrate well before and after your night out, and make those cocktails last! Make sure to hydrate first thing in the morning, and carry a bottle of water with you throughout the day.

The vasoconstriction from products with caffeine can reduce puffiness, and cooling products can help reduce inflammation and promote blood flow. But keep in mind that any benefit you see is temporary.

A metal roller ball—either on its own or as the applicator of an eye cream or serum—can gently distribute lymphatic build-up, helping it drain from underneath the eyes while also cooling the inflammation.

#5 Salty foods

If the puffiness under your eyes is worse in the morning and better by later in the day, this is likely the result of fluid retention—and that can be caused by eating too much salt.

Common salt contains sodium, which is a micronutrient essential for human life. But it’s a double-edged sword. Consume too little salt, and you could experience headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, and worse, potentially life-threatening conditions. Consume too much salt, and you may experience high blood pressure, edema, and/or loss of calcium.

Excess salt intake is thought to cause the body to retain water and bloat, which can affect your under eye appearance.

It’s also known that processed foods tend to contain too much sodium. Be aware that the frozen food section of your grocer is laced with higher levels of sodium in order to preserve the food for longer periods of time. Additionally, fatty meats, canned beans, and other foods you may can contain high amounts of sodium.

Sodium mainly is known to absorb all the water (heard of water retention?), which can cause puffy eyes.

By avoiding these foods and drinks, you can fight off puffy eyes and dark circles with minimal effort—and you don’t even have to buy expensive skin-care products to do it.

To decrease the kind of puffiness caused by salty foods, we recommend reducing your salt intake, increasing your water intake, sleeping propped up on a couple of pillows, and using an eye cream that contains caffeine to constrict blood vessels.

Resting your eyes is usually all that is needed to return them to normal, and not resting tired eyes can lead to eye strain. Although it is usually harmless, eye strain can lead to other problems, such as headache, dry eyes, irritability, and eye pain.

So, remember to take care of your eyes, give them a good rest on a regular basis, and live healthy – and you will see your eyes will thank you by feeling and looking gorgeous.

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