Why You Shouldn't Sleep in Your Contacts

Man sleeping in bed.

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If you wear contact lenses, you've inevitably had a time when you just felt too tired to go through the hassle of removing your lenses before going to sleep. Although falling asleep in your contact lenses can happen accidentally to anyone, it's something you should avoid. That's because it can lead to eye infections and other dangerous eye conditions that can threaten your vision.

Here's more information on why sleeping in your contact lenses in bad--and what symptoms to watch for that may warrant a visit to the eye doctor.

What Happens

A few things happen if you try to catch some shuteye with your contact lenses on. First, you'll likely wake up with red and irritated eyes. That can be caused by debris on the lenses that then remains in your eye while you sleep.

Your eyes also may feel drier than usual after sleeping in lenses. That's because contact lenses impede oxygen flow to the cornea, which is the eye's clear outer layer. When you remove your contacts, you give your corneas a chance to breathe.

When you wear your contacts for an extended time period, including while you sleep, there's less oxygen getting in the eye. The end result is red, irritated, and dry eyes.

Contact lenses also raise the risk of bacteria or fungi getting in the eye, both of which can cause an eye infection. This is the case anytime you use contacts, not just when you sleep. However, sleeping with your lenses in raises that risk even further. Your contacts are also more prone to tearing while you sleep, and that also can increase the risk for an infection.

Risks

Here are the eye conditions you risk getting when you sleep in your contacts:

  • Bacterial or fungal infections: You raise your risk for an eye infection six to eight times higher if you sleep in your contacts.
  • Contact lens acute red eye
  • Corneal abrasion: A scratch in your eye
  • Corneal neovascularization: This is abnormal growth of blood vessels into the cornea. This could cause inflammation that makes you unable to wear contact lenses in the future.
  • Corneal ulcers: An open sore on the cornea
  • Hypoxia: This is the most common problem with contact lens use. Hypoxia is what happens when the cornea doesn't get enough oxygen; it makes the cornea swell.

The danger of sleeping in contact lenses remains the same no matter what types of contacts you use or the length of time you sleep in them (for instance, sleeping in your contacts while napping still poses a risk). Some eye doctors even advise against sleeping with contact lenses that are marketed for overnight use.

Conditions That Can Lead to Vision Damage

Some of the eye problems that occur from wearing your contact lenses overnight can lead to serious vision damage and even blindness. These include certain types of infections and ulcers, depending on their severity. They also could lead to the need for a type of surgery called a corneal transplantation.

Symptoms

There are a few symptoms you may have if you develop an infection or other condition from contact lens wear, including:

  • Extra sensitivity to light
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Eye redness
  • Feeling as if you have something in your eye
  • Pain in the eye
  • Tearing or discharge
  • Vision that is blurry

If you have any of these symptoms, get in touch with an eye doctor right away.

What to Do If You Fall Asleep in Contacts

If you fall asleep wearing your contact lenses and you don't have the symptoms above—perhaps nothing more than a sensation of dry eye—remove your contacts as soon as you can. Wear your glasses instead to give your eyes the chance to breathe. If needed, use artificial tears to provide lubrication to your eyes.

If you are having symptoms such as the ones above, save the contacts that you removed. An eye doctor may want to analyze the lenses. Monitor your eyes for any symptoms of an infection, such as the ones mentioned above.

If you routinely fall asleep wearing contacts, talk to your doctor about extended wear contact lenses. These are made of a silicone hydrogel material that allows more oxygen into the cornea. However, even if they are marketed for use while sleeping, your eye doctor may still recommend removing them overnight.

A Word From Verywell

Remember to remove your contacts every time you sleep, even when you take a nap. Store your lenses in a clean case with fresh solution. Follow other good lens hygiene, such as washing your hands before inserting your lenses and never swimming or bathing in your lenses.

Keep up with regular eye doctor appointments to monitor your eye health and obtain contact lens prescriptions. These simple steps can go a long way toward preventing an eye infection or other eye problem.

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Article 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. University of Michigan, Michigan Medicine. Contact lens problems: Hypoxia.

  2. National Sleep Foundation. Sleeping with your contacts in: Is it bad?

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Corneal infections associated with sleeping in contact lenses--six cases, United States, 2016-2018.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Corneal abrasion.

  5. Columbia University Department of Ophthalmology. Cornea neovascularization.

  6. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is a corneal ulcer (keratitis)?

  7. Cleveland Clinic. What happens to your eyes when you sleep in your contacts.

  8. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Contact lens-related eye infections.

  9. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Why you should never sleep in your contact lenses.