Can You Sleep With Your Eyes Open?

Causes Include Sleep Disorders like Parasomnias, Stroke, and Bell's Palsy

It may be a useful skill to have if you want to get some rest when you are supposed to appear attentive, but is it really possible to sleep with your eyes open? Learn why sleeping with eyes open occurs, the most common causes including Bell's palsy, and some of the possible dangers associated with incompletely closing the eyes during sleep.

Young boy lying in bed with eyes open
Jena Cumba / Photodisc / Getty Images

Causes of Keeping the Eyes Open During Sleep

First, it is important to agree on what sleep is. For these purposes, let’s include a lack of conscious awareness of one’s surroundings. In general, sleep involves lying in a recumbent position with the body at rest. We typically are unable to see or respond to external stimuli and we keep our eyes closed. Even with our eyes open, we would not respond to the environment while asleep. Therefore, it is not necessarily required to have the eyes completely closed in order to sleep.

The classic description of sleep may not always fit in some circumstances. For example, in the case of parasomnias, sleep (including unresponsiveness) may occur with the eyes remaining open. In these abnormal sleep behaviors, the person remains asleep or unconscious but is able to sleepwalk or perform other actions. Part of the brain remains awake while another part is asleep. These behaviors can be quite elaborate, including eating, cooking, driving, and sex. The person experiencing a parasomnia may even have their eyes open, but they will typically have a glazed-over look and would be unresponsive to questioning or direction. Most would consider them to be asleep.

Beyond the parasomnias, some people may simply incompletely close their eyes during sleep, allowing the white part of the eye (called the sclera) to remain uncovered. As the eyes close, the pupils and irises naturally roll upward for protection. Incomplete closure of the eyelids may occur occasionally in healthy people.

Others may be unable to close their eyes due to other medical problems. This is called lagophthalmos. It may occur most commonly as part of a condition called Bell’s palsy, which results in facial weakness and may be due to an infection of the seventh cranial (or facial) nerve. This is often believed to be caused by a virus. It may also occur (less commonly) with a stroke affecting the brainstem. In this case, other symptoms would generally be present.

It may also be possible to disengage your mind from the processing of visual input while keeping your eyes open, such as may occur in hypnosis or deep meditation.

Interestingly, there are animals like migrating birds or mammals that are able to keep one eye open as they only sleep with one side of their brain at a time (a phenomenon called unihemispheric sleep).

Dangers Associated With Sleeping With Your Eyes Open

In general, sleeping with your eyes open (even if only a small degree) may be possible. It is typically harmless, but it may lead to dry or red eyes in the morning if it is prolonged. This irritation may have long-term consequences if it becomes chronic and it may compromise vision. In this case, it may be necessary to apply a lubricant to the eye and patch it overnight. Eye drops may also relieve the irritation during the day.

A Word From Verywell

If you are concerned about keeping your eyes open during sleep, especially if you are noticing problems with your eyes, speak with your healthcare provider and consider an evaluation by an ophthalmologist to ensure that damage is not occurring to the surface of your eye.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Sleeping with Eyes Open.

  2. Fleetham JA, Fleming JA. Parasomnias. CMAJ. 2014;186(8):E273-80. doi:10.1503/cmaj.120808

Additional Reading
  • Kryger MH et al. "Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine." Elsevier, 6th edition, 2016.

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.