Is Sleeping in Contact Lenses Bad for My Eyes?

By: Eye SiteDate: August 28, 2012

At some point in time, nearly all people who wear contact lenses fall asleep with their contact lenses still in their eyes. For some, this is a one-time occurrence. For others, it is a daily routine. Waking up with cloudy vision after sleeping in contact lenses is bothersome, but is sleeping in your contacts actually bad for your eyes?

The Answer:

The short and simple answer is "yes." Sleeping with contacts in your eyes for one night may not be dangerous, but repeatedly denying your eyes a chance to "breathe" without contacts can cause long-term damage.

Why? You Might Ask

In order to stay healthy, your eyes require access to a certain amount of oxygen each day. Contact lenses are designed to be semi-permeable to allow some oxygen to reach the eye, but even lenses with the highest degree of permeability still restrict the flow of oxygen to the cornea.

Research has shown that restricting the flow of oxygen to the cornea can result in keratitis, which is inflammation of the cornea. Keratitis can be very painful, and it can cause severe and long-term damage to the cornea. Symptoms of keratitis include painful and bloodshot eyes. In some cases, keratitis can lead to more serious diseases, such as ulcers or cancer. Unless your optometrist has given you contact lenses specifically designed for overnight wear, it is crucial to remove your lenses at night to help prevent keratitis or other serious eye diseases.

More Information

A more common effect of sleeping while wearing contact lenses is bacterial infections of the eyes. When a person repeatedly wears their contacts in their sleep, they likely are not cleaning them properly. Contact lenses must be cleaned thoroughly each day with contact lens solution. When lenses are not cleaned correctly, they can accumulate proteins, debris, and bacteria. During the daytime hours, the eyes blink and produce tears, helping to wash away bacteria and objects. However, at night, these bacteria are allowed to grow uninhibited on contact lenses. Sometimes people believe that taking the lenses out once a day to rinse them briefly is good enough; however, wearing lenses at night is an easy way to develop eye infections.

Finally, sleeping in contact lenses can accidentally scrape your eyes. Objects may become trapped under lenses that have not been removed or cleansed properly, and this can cause damage to the cornea. Keeping the eyes closed over contact lenses with debris underneath them while sleeping can complicate the damage. Additionally, some people rub their eyes in their sleep, which can cause contact lenses to scrape against the eyes.

Because of the negative effects of sleeping in contact lenses, optometrists recommend removing and cleansing lenses each night before going to bed. Unless your optometrist has prescribed lenses that are approved for overnight wear, you should always remove your contacts before sleeping.

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