Is Sleeping in Contact Lenses Dangerous?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, May 18, 2021
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About one-third of contact lens wearers occasionally sleep with their lenses.

It’s easy to fall asleep in your contact lenses; one minute you’re reading a book or watching TV, and the next you’re fast asleep.

In some cases, a person can wake up with their lenses on and just blink any discomfort away.

Sleeping with contact lenses make you up to 8 times more likely to experience a contact lens-related eye infection, such as damage to your cornea.

Contact an eye doctor near you to learn more about contact lens safety.

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Does sleeping in contacts increase the risk of infection?

Yes. Corneas need oxygen to remain healthy, but they receive their oxygen directly from the air and do not receive oxygen from the lungs. The flow of oxygen and nutrients keeps the cornea clear, balanced, and functioning properly.

During the day, open eyes allow oxygen to reach the cornea directly through the tear film.

When a person sleeps with contact lenses overnight, the contact forms a barrier between the cornea and the tears, limiting the amount of oxygen delivered to the cornea at night. This is known as ‘corneal hypoxia’.

Even though a person’s eyes are closed when they sleep, different parts of the eye, such as the aqueous humor and tears, provide only limited oxygen and nutrients to the corneas.

A lack of oxygen may potentially cause these corneal problems;

  • Keratitis: inflammation of the cornea
  • Conjunctivitis: inflammation of the conjunctiva
  • Corneal neovascularization: the influx of new blood vessels into the cornea

In serious but rare cases, dozing off in contact lenses — particularly repeatedly — can cause vision loss due to corneal scarring, necessitating the use of medicated eye drops or even surgery.

What to do if you sleep with your contacts?

As soon as you wake up, remove your contacts and don’t insert them again for at least one day, to give your corneas some air.

Be sure not to tug at the lens, as sleeping in contacts can make the lens harder to remove from your eye and it could tear.

Apply a few drops of artificial tears before removing the lenses as that will help loosen them from your eye.

If you find yourself sleeping in your contact lenses on a regular basis it could impact your eye health to the point that you may not be able to wear the lenses for many days or even weeks.

If you notice any symptoms like redness, eye discharge, very watery eyes or blurred vision after a night of wearing your lenses or at any other time, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you.