Why Is Sleeping In Contacts So Bad?

Why Is Sleeping In Contacts So Bad?

a woman sleeping in her bed wearing contacts


We’ve all heard scary stories about what happens if you sleep in your contacts. ( This man went blind!)

And yet, we all ask the same questions:

  • How bad is it to sleep with your lenses in?
  • Is it ok to nap in your contacts?
  • Does it get worse if you sleep in them for more than one night?

That’s why WebEyeCare has put together this comprehensive guide covering what happens to your eyes if you fall asleep while wearing your contacts, what to do if this happens to you, and which contact lenses are approved by the FDA to wear while you sleep.

As a rule of thumb, never sleep in your contacts unless prescribed by your eye care provider!

What Does Sleeping In Contacts Do To Your Eyes?

According to the CDC, three out of ten people sleep or nap in their contacts at least occasionally. Recent studies demonstrate that sleeping in any type of contact lens increases your chance of getting a serious corneal infection, like microbial keratitis, by six to eight times.

About 18 to 20 people out of every 10,000 who sleep overnight in their contact lenses get microbial keratitis annually. You may expect to get red eyes, too.

So, scientifically speaking, what happens to your eyes when you sleep, and why is it so bad to wear your contacts in bed?

What Do You Need To Know Before Sleeping With Your Contacts In?

Summary of the Top 5 Things To Know About Sleeping In Contacts:
  1. Your eyes won’t get enough oxygen.
  2. Your eyes are more likely to get infected.
  3. You may scratch the lining of the eyelid and get dry eyes.
  4. The longer you wear contacts in your sleep, the more dangerous it is for your eyes.
  5. Extended wear lenses are approved to be slept in.

1. Your Eyes Won’t Get Enough Oxygen

Your eyes require oxygen to stay healthy and appear white. No matter how advanced contact lenses are, the material used for soft contact lenses is less than 100% breathable. This means it doesn’t allow for 100% of oxygen to pass to your cornea. It’s one of the reasons contact lenses have restrictions on how long you can continuously wear them per day.

The cornea, a transparent series of layers covering the front of the eye, gets oxygen from the air while you’re awake. Naturally, your eyes receive less oxygen when they are closed, like when you are sleeping or napping. However, during that time, they receive lubrication and nutrition from tears and a clear watery fluid called “aqueous humor.”

Aqueous humor is a natural fluid in your eye that also maintains intraocular pressure and keeps your eyes healthy.

During the day, your contact lens moves with each blink. The movement, close to 1mm, allows oxygen to get to the cornea. When you sleep in your contacts, you don’t blink, and the lenses don’t move to allow for more oxygen. Add the closed eyelid, and it’s a dangerous combination, as it may critically reduce the amount of oxygen your eyes need to be healthy.

2. Your Eyes Are More Likely To Get Infected

If you wear contact lenses, you may not be surprised by the fact that it may be easier for you to get an infection of the cornea, like keratitis or corneal ulcers, than for people who don’t wear contacts.

When you sleep in your contacts, you add oxidative stress that makes your eyes even more vulnerable to bacteria. Without oxygen, the cornea of your eye begins to swell. When it swells, it creates gaps between the eye’s epithelium cells. These gaps are opportune places for bacteria to get trapped and grow.

Additionally, soft contact lenses allow for bacteria and pathogens to proliferate and cause complications. Mild infections are generally treated with eye drops (antibiotic, steroid, or antifungal), depending on the nature of your condition. Serious or untreated diseases may lead to severe complications, including permanent damage to your eyes and even vision loss.

That’s why it is important to follow best practices in taking care of your contacts.

3. You May Scratch The Lining Of Your Eyelid And Get Dry Eyes

During your sleep, if your eyes become dry, your eyelids may stick to your cornea. When you wake up and try to open your eyes, you may rip off some of your cornea’s epithelium. This would cause abrasion and pain.

How do you know if you scratched your eye? You will feel pain and the sensation of a foreign body in your eye. Other signs may include redness, sensitivity to light, tearing, headache, and nausea. Your vision may become worse or blurry.

If you feel any of the described symptoms or any discomfort in your eyes, contact your eye doctor immediately.

4. The Longer You Wear Contacts In Your Sleep, The More Dangerous It Is For Your Eyes

While sleeping even just once while wearing contacts is a risk, the more you sleep in your contacts, the more damage may occur to your eyes.

Your eyes may seem ok after sleeping once with contact lenses in, but don’t fall the victim of thinking that it makes you immune to all associated risks if you keep doing so. Remember that the problems may not be easily visible at first. Don’t push your luck!

Avoid taking naps while wearing contacts, too. Snoozing for 15-20 minutes may not seem long, but all eyes and environments are different. When you close your eyes even for a short period, you deprive your eyes of oxygen, making your cornea more susceptible to infections.

You may also trap germs and other potentially harmful elements that have adhered to the lenses during the day, according to doctor of optometry (OD) Angela Bevels, founder and owner of Elite Dry Eye Spa in Tucson, Arizona. These germs love the warm and moist environment between the lens and your eye and may cause damage to your cornea.

When you keep wearing your contacts at night while you sleep, you’re helping bacteria proliferate in your eyes while also depriving them of oxygen, adding more risks to your eye health. The longer you sleep in your contacts, the more dangerous it gets for your eyes. Even a short nap may be risky and cause trouble.

5. Extended Wear Lenses Are FDA Approved To Be Slept In

The first FDA-approved soft extended wear contacts were introduced back in 1981, but they didn’t gain popularity until the 1990s. Extended wear contact lenses are designed to be worn continuously, including overnight, typically for up to six consecutive nights. Newer materials (like silicone hydrogel) allow for longer wear periods (up to a month). Such lenses are often called “continuous wear” contacts.

Today, several contact lens brands (like Acuvue Oasys, Air Optix Aqua, or Biofinity) offer continuous wear contacts designed for two-week and monthly replacement. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved these contact lenses for overnight wear. That means you can occasionally keep them in when you go to bed.

Even with the extended wear contact lenses, you significantly increase the risk of getting a serious eye infection if you sleep in them. There is just no safer option than removing your contact lenses before you snooze.

Why are extended wear contacts better suited for sleep?

  • Their design is more porous and allows for more oxygen to pass through the lens.
  • These lenses are thinner than daily-wear soft lenses.
  • They are made of silicone hydrogel material. It is an advanced lens material that is more oxygen permeable than hydrogel.

Additionally, silicone hydrogel lenses have lower wettability of the lenses because of the added silicone. It may not be a problem for most wearers, but you might feel more eye discomfort from dryness than you would experience wearing a hydrogel lens.

Though the extended wear lenses are approved by the FDA to be worn overnight, not everyone is a good candidate to wear contacts overnight. Only your eye care provider may approve and prescribe you such lenses. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations for your wearing schedule.

What To Do If You Accidentally Slept In Your Contacts?

If you accidentally slept in your contacts, you may want to be careful with the way you handle the situation when you wake up. Asking your eye doctor about it and following their recommendations is always the best course of action.
  1. Evaluate if your eyes are dry. If they are dry, you may want to use eye drops appropriate for contact lenses to wet your eyes as much as possible.
  2. Check if your contact got stuck to your eye or dried out. The last thing you’d want is to tear your cornea (which is easy to do if you slept in your contacts). After washing your hands with warm water and soap, carefully check if your contact slides or moves easily.
  3. Remove the contact lenses without damaging the cornea as soon as possible. It may be difficult if the lens is dry. Artificial tears, saline solution, and frequent blinking may help moisten them up. Don’t hesitate to contact your eye doctor if you think you need help.
  4. Allow your contacts to stay in the solution for at least a few hours before putting them back in. This will give your eyes some rest, too.
  5. Check if your eyes are irritated, hurt, or itchy. Contact your eye doctor if you have any discomfort or concerns regarding your eye health.
  6. Check with your eye care professional if extended wear contacts or daily disposable contacts are a solution for your lifestyle.

How To Treat An Eye After Sleeping With Contacts

Depending on the severity of your situation, you may need immediate medical care. After sleeping in contact lenses, your eyes are more likely to be irritated and deprived of oxygen. You could have a swollen cornea, multiplying bacteria, and dryness.

Eye care professionals recommend to only sleep in contact lenses designed and approved for extended wear and were prescribed to you for such a wearing schedule. Some people are better candidates for the overnight wear, and only your eye care professional may advise you on using them during sleep.

Sleeping in your contacts is associated with corneal infections. Recent studies show that corneal infections may require surgery and can cause corneal damage to your eyes and possibly permanent loss of vision.

Can You Sleep With Contacts For Just One Hour?

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, even a short, one-hour nap with contacts can put your eye health at risk.

Long-distance traveling, unplanned overnight stays, and any sort of emergency may cause you to unintentionally fall asleep in your contacts for a short or long period. Though quick naps may seem less risky than sleeping the whole night, snoozing in your contacts is not recommended, not even for 15 minutes.

The best way to go about it is to bring a contact case and a bottle of lens solution with you wherever you go, especially if you wear weekly or monthly disposable contact lenses. If that option is not convenient for you, you may ask your eye care professional if daily disposable contact lenses are a good option for you. Your prescription specifies the type and brand of the contact lenses that you can purchase and wear.

Daily disposable contacts are great for those of us who don’t want to carry a lens solution and a case with them. Grabbing an extra pair of these contacts wherever you go will spare you from having to choose between throwing away your good lenses ahead of schedule and facing the risks of sleeping in your contacts.

Another option is to ask your eye care professional if extended wear contacts are suitable for your eyes. These lenses may minimize some risks associated with snoozing in your contacts.

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