A link between myopia and melatonin levels which control the natural body clock has been established for the first time by a team of scientists from Ulster University.

A group of young adults were assessed over a period of 18 months, during which their melatonin levels were measured first thing in the morning after fasting. It was found that those people who were short-sighted had over three times more melatonin in their system than those who were not.

Researchers, led by professor Kathryn Saunders, said their objective was to determine whether disrupted sleep patterns in childhood were related to short-sightedness and whether behavioural interventions and sleep pattern management could serve as a low-cost strategy to managing the condition.

The findings follow on from previous research conducted by the university that found there were now twice as many post-primary school-aged children in the UK diagnosed as short-sighted than there were 60 years ago.

Professor Saunders said: ‘While having a short-sighted parent plays a big part in determining whether or not a child becomes short-sighted, the rate at which children are becoming short-sighted tells us that it is not just simple genetics at play.

‘Our modern lifestyles are also having a significant impact. Even mildly short-sighted eyes are at future risk of a number of serious, sight-threatening conditions such as glaucoma, retinal detachment, macular degeneration and cataracts.

‘Our research suggests that the body clocks’ of the short-sighted adults in our study were different, which is exciting because if these differences are also found in children, they may help us better understand which aspects of modern lifestyles are causing more children to become short-sighted than ever before.

‘If, as we suspect, disruptions to the natural body clock are shown to be influential in the development of short-sight, modifications to lifestyle that target strengthening healthy sleep and activity patterns could positively affect both general and eye health.

‘Ulster University’s previous research has already shown that children who spend less time outdoors and less time in sporting activities are at increased risk of short-sight, and this new research may go some way to explaining why that is the case.’