The scenario is common: after a long day or a late night out, you find yourself unintentionally dozing off without taking out your contact lenses. But have you ever stopped to think about the implications of sleeping with your contacts in? Here are the very real risks:
1. Oxygen Deprivation:
The cornea, the clear front surface of the eye, requires oxygen to function correctly. During the day, it gets oxygen directly from the atmosphere and also from the tear film covering it. However, contact lenses can reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the cornea. Sleeping with them on can further deprive the cornea of this vital oxygen, leading to potential problems.
2. Bacterial Infections:
Contacts can trap bacteria against the eye. When combined with the reduced oxygen supply due to a closed eyelid during sleep, the risk of bacterial infections like microbial keratitis increases. This is an inflammation of the cornea which can, in severe cases, lead to blindness if not treated promptly.
3. Contact Lens Binding:
After sleeping with your contacts on, you might wake up to find that your lenses feel ‘stuck’ to your eyes. This is known as contact lens binding. It happens because the tear film that keeps your eyes moist may diminish as you sleep, making the lenses dry out and stick to the surface of the eye.
4. Increased Risk of Corneal Ulcers:
These are open sores on the cornea, mainly caused by bacterial infections. As previously mentioned, sleeping with contact lenses increases the chance of bacterial accumulation, which can lead to these ulcers.
5. Eye Irritation and Redness:
You might experience redness, itchiness, and general discomfort if you frequently sleep with your contacts on. This is due to the eyes’ reaction to the lack of oxygen and potential debris or bacteria trapped by the lens.
Are There Exceptions?
Yes, certain contact lenses are FDA-approved for overnight wear. These extended wear lenses are designed to allow more oxygen to reach the cornea, even when the eyelid is closed. However, even with these lenses, there’s still a heightened risk of eye infections compared to daily removal. Read our post on some examples that are approved for overnight usage, available for sale on 1800-GET-LENS.
So What Actually Happens If You Do Fall Asleep with Contacts On? What To Do If In Such A Case:
Depending on the length of time you’re asleep with contacts on, most likely nothing harmful is going to happen. There have been fewer than a dozen cases reported of eye conditions that resulted from a wearer inadvertently sleeping with contacts on, over a 2 year period where this was analyzed (2016 to 2018). That said, if repeated instances occurred this would certainly increase the risks substantially. Overall, sleeping in contact lenses increases the risk for serious contact lens–related eye problems by six- to eight fold. So this is not a practice wearers can afford to not be vigilant with.
What to Do If it Happens:
Stay calm – panic won’t help the situation (does it ever?).
Hydrate your eyes – use a saline solution or lubricating eye drops to moisten the eye and lens.
Gently remove the lens – if the lens doesn’t come out easily or if there’s discomfort, consult an optometrist.
Allow your eyes to breathe – consider wearing your glasses for a day to let your eyes recover.
Consult an expert – if you experience prolonged redness, pain, sensitivity to light, or blurred vision, see an optometrist immediately.
While falling asleep with your contacts on once in a blue moon might not lead to dire consequences, making a habit of it increases the risk of eye complications. Always follow your eye care professional’s recommendations and ensure you’re using the right type of lenses for your lifestyle. If you’re prone to forgetting, perhaps it’s time to consider a pair of stylish glasses from our collection for those long nights.