Why You Shouldn't Sleep in Your Contacts

Man sleeping in bed.

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Although falling asleep in your contact lenses can happen accidentally, it's something you should avoid. That's because it can lead to eye infections and other dangerous complications that can threaten your vision.

If you fall asleep with your contact lenses on, it's important to learn to recognize the symptoms you need to watch for, and to know when it's time to visit an eye specialist about it.

What Happens

A few things happen if you try to catch some shuteye with your contact lenses on. These can lead to a variety of problems, and it can be hard to know the cause unless you see a healthcare provider.

  • Debris on the lenses remains in your eye while you sleep. This can make you wake up with red and irritated eyes.
  • 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. This can make your eyes feel drier than usual after sleeping in lenses.
  • 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, swollen, and dry eyes.
  • Contact lenses raise the risk of bacteria or fungi getting in the eye, which can cause an eye infection. This is the case anytime you use contacts, not just when you sleep. However, sleeping with your lenses raises that risk even further.
  • Your contacts are more prone to tearing while you sleep, and that can increase the risk for an infection or damage to the cornea (the superficial layer of your eye).

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: This can occur due to a number of issues, such as inflammation, allergies, or dry eyes.
  • Corneal abrasion: A scratch in your eye can be extremely painful, and may make you susceptible to infection.
  • Corneal neovascularization: This is an 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 can cause permanent vision loss.
  • Hypoxia: This is the most common problem with contact lens use and it can make the cornea swell. Hypoxia is what happens when the cornea doesn't get enough oxygen.

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 specialists 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 surgical intervention, such as 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
  • Grittiness of the eye
  • Pain or discomfort in the eye
  • Tearing or discharge
  • Vision that is blurry

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

What to Do If You Fall Asleep in Contacts

If you fall asleep wearing your contact lenses and you don't have symptoms—perhaps nothing more than a sensation of dry eye—remove your contacts as soon as you can. Wear your glasses for the rest of the day 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, save the contacts that you removed. your eye specialist may want to analyze the lenses. Monitor your eyes for any symptoms of an infection.

If you routinely fall asleep wearing contacts, talk to your healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider 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 a fresh solution. Follow other good lens hygiene, such as washing your hands before inserting your lenses and never swimming or bathing in your lenses.

Also when handling your lenses after washing, make sure your hands are dry. Water can cause acathaemeoba infection, a type of eye infection that can cause vision loss and or the need for a corneal transplant.

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

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9 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.