Most people who wear contact lenses can think of a time when they fell asleep (or almost fell asleep) with their lenses in their eyes.
Does this sound familiar? It was late, and you were tired and ready to fall asleep, but you hadn’t taken your contacts out yet. It’s kind of inconvenient to have to get out of bed, plod your way over to the bathroom, and take them out. You’re just so comfortable already… so you got to wondering, is it really that bad to fall asleep while you’re wearing your contacts?
Yes, it is.
We’re not going to joke around because this is serious. If you’re considering wearing your contacts while you sleep, please don’t. And if you’re habitually wearing your contacts while you sleep, we implore you to stop.
Both types have their advantages and disadvantages, which is why we wrote this blog post to help you make an informed decision!
Let’s start with a not-so-big deal. You know that feeling towards the end of the day when your lenses are starting to dry out and you can’t wait to take them out for the day? Imagine that feeling but after having woken up with your lenses in for an extra eight hours while you were sleeping. It’s not a pleasant feeling.
Now we’re getting into the actual big deals… Let’s talk about the cornea’s role in protecting your eye.
The cornea is the transparent tissue that forms a structural barrier to protect your eyes from infections and debris. This is the reason we can shine a light in your eye to check on the health of the structures inside your eye and potentially spot serious health issues early.
While the cornea valiantly fights to keep your eyes safe from infection, it can lose this fight if you sleep with your contacts in. As we mentioned in a previous article, proteins and debris build up on your contact lenses throughout the day. Sleeping with contacts in—or wearing improperly cleaned contacts—increases the amount of time your eyes spend in close contact with these irritants since the lenses trap them against your eye.
Why should you try to avoid a corneal infection? First and foremost, it’s an eye infection. It’s not an enjoyable experience. Eye infections range from uncomfortable to painful. Depending on severity, they can require prescription medications or other health treatments to clear, and you won’t be able to wear your contacts while you have an eye infection.
If eye pain is something that doesn’t sound appealing to you, avoid sleeping with your contacts in at any cost!
Last and certainly not least, sleeping with your contacts in can damage your eyes—sometimes permanently!
The aforementioned corneal infections can progress to become corneal ulcers, which are exactly what they sound like: ulcers on your cornea. A corneal ulcer develops when a bacterial infection to the cornea causes an open sore or erosion to get into the deeper levels of the cornea.
Another injury that can result from sleeping in contacts is corneal neovascularization. This is a condition where new blood vessels grow into the cornea because your eyes aren’t getting enough oxygen. The blood vessels are visible and in serious cases, there can be a lot of them. Remember the eyes of the zombies in 28 Days Later? It’s not exactly like that, but just imagine it’s like that because you definitely don’t want to deal with corneal neovascularization!
The final injury we want to mention is good old-fashioned abrasions! Sleeping in your contact lenses can move the lens around against your eye and potentially cause physical damage to its surface. For the record, no, your contact lens can’t slide up behind your eye and get stuck in your brain. However, your contact lens can get stuck between your eye and your eye socket, which can make it tricky to take out, especially if anything becomes irritated and inflamed.
Most importantly, these conditions aren’t always temporary! Corneal ulcers can scar, and corneal neovascularization can leave permanent “ghost vessels” visible on the cornea even if you manage to stop the growth of blood vessels into the cornea.
Every week, we see patients with corneal scars caused by sleeping in contact lenses. Sometimes the scars are directly in the patient’s line of sight and result in permanent impairment. Sleeping in your contact lenses is not worth it! Trust us.
If you’ve decided to wear contact lenses, treat them as seriously and with as much care as you’d handle any other medical device. Never fall asleep with your contacts in your eyes. If you can only manage to do one more thing before going to sleep, make sure that one more thing is taking your contacts out.
Short answer: Bad idea. We don’t recommend overnight or extended wear contact lenses.
Longer answer: Sleeping while wearing contacts a single time may not cause an eye infection, but the chances of your eyes becoming infected skyrocket the more often you sleep with contacts in your eyes. Research on the long-term effects of wearing contacts approved for overnight or extended periods shows that there are real risks and potential health consequences for sleeping while wearing any kind of contact lenses.
The best contact lens option is daily disposables. When you’re wearing dailies, you don’t have to ever sleep in them because you use a fresh lens each day. Instead of sleeping in them, wearing the same pair for 30 days, and having to soak lenses in a solution every night, you can have brand-new lenses every day.
Daily contact lenses are the healthier option. They lead to less dry eye and are better for patients with allergies, and the risk of corneal ulcers and infection goes way down.
If you live in Andover, Winfield, or east Wichita, KS, and you’re interested in switching over to contact lenses, then we invite you to schedule an appointment with us so that we can perform a contact lens exam! We’ll determine which type and brand is best for your prescription.
Call (316) 361-1020 for our Andover location or (620) 221-2015 for our Winfield location. We can’t wait to meet you!
Dr. Matt Boswell was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, where he graduated from Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School. He attended Emporia State University to play on the Men’s Basketball Team while getting his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, Pre-Optometry. While there, Dr. Boswell made the academic honor roll every year while receiving all-league honors his senior year. After graduating from ESU, he went to Memphis, Tennessee, and received his Optometry Degree from the Southern College of Optometry in 2016. Dr. Boswell is excited to practice back in Andover and Winfield, where he was a patient of Dr. Holman’s growing up and shadowed him in high school.
Dr. Boswell’s areas of interest are comprehensive primary eye care and ocular disease, including glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetes. He also loves fitting contact lenses and seeing kids. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association and the Kansas Optometric Association. Dr. Boswell resides in East Wichita with his wife, Kirsten, a nurse. They welcomed their first child in February 2022, Baker. They love the outdoors, playing sports, fishing, and staying active with their Bernese Mountain Dog, Franny.