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Can You Sleep With Contacts In?

Wed, September 14th, 2022

Picture this: you’re at the end of a long day, eyes unable to stay open, and all you want to do is get into bed and fall asleep—but you’re still wearing your contacts.

Many contact lens wearers reach this crossroads. Whether it’s an afternoon nap or the end of the day, it can be tempting to forgo removing your contacts and just fall asleep still wearing them. But that begs the question: can you sleep with contacts in?

Let’s find out the answer to that question, and why it’s an important one to answer.

Is It Safe to Sleep With Contacts In?

While you of course can sleep with contacts in—as many lens wearers have done at least a time or two—the more important question is whether it’s safe to do so. The short answer: no, it’s not.

Regardless of whether it’s a nap or a full night of rest, sleeping with contacts in can significantly increase your chances of developing an eye infection. According to the CDC, those who sleep with contacts in are six to eight times more likely to develop an eye infection.

This can even apply to contacts that are considered “extended wear,” or lenses designed for overnight use. While it’s safer to sleep with these contacts compared to other types, they should still be removed when possible.

That’s why taking your contacts out before sleeping is one of the most important contact lens care practices—not only does it keep the lenses in good condition, but it also has major implications for your overall eye health.

Can you sleep in contact lenses? Infographic

Why is it Dangerous to Sleep With Contacts In?

There are two main reasons why sleeping in contact lenses is a bad idea. Let’s take a look at each in detail.

Oxygen Deprivation

The most common type of contact lenses—soft, disposable contacts—allow oxygen to pass through to the eye, which improves the overall comfort of the lenses and keeps your eyes healthy during use. However, when the eyes are closed, the amount of oxygen the cornea receives is reduced—and sleeping with contacts in reduces the amount of oxygen received even further. This can create serious problems.

If you’ve ever fallen asleep with contacts in and woken up with dry eyes, that’s due to hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, of the cornea. But dry eyes is a best case scenario for hypoxia—in serious cases, it can lead to infection.

Lack of oxygen can also make it difficult for the cornea to regenerate fresh cells. When this happens, it can be easier for bacteria to enter the cornea and cause infection.

Cleaning Complications

Tears play an essential role in maintaining healthy eyes. Tear fluid and oxygen work together throughout each day to protect your cornea against bacteria and microorganisms that could cause infection or damage to your eyes. This is part of the reason why we blink—blinking lubricates the eye with tear fluid and flushes away foreign bodies.

Contacts partially restrict this process, being that they sit on the cornea. Sleeping further complicates things because the eyes remain closed. This combination creates a situation where the eyes aren’t being effectively cleaned—opening the doorway to infection.

These two issues, oxygen deprivation and impaired cleaning ability, compound the risk of an eye infection. That’s why even a nap can spell trouble—with these essential functions inhibited by contacts during sleep, it may not take long for issues to arise.

Risk of Sleeping With Contacts

Contact lenses can be worn safely when properly cared for and used—but improper care or use increases your risk of eye problems. Eye infections can be serious issues, and taking your contacts out before sleeping is one of the best ways to prevent infection from contact use.

Specifically, sleeping with contacts can lead to a condition called bacterial keratitis, an infection of the cornea. Bacterial keratitis is caused by common types of bacteria found on the human body or in the environment. Improper care or use of contacts can lead to the bacteria getting into the cornea and causing infection.

Common symptoms of bacterial keratitis include eye pain or redness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, or eye discharge. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, remove your contact lenses as soon as possible and contact your eye care professional. While bacterial keratitis is treatable, it can lead to serious complications—including vision loss and blindness—when left untreated.

What to do if You Fall Asleep With Contacts In

If you’re like most contact lens wearers, chances are you’ve fallen asleep with your contacts in at least once before. The reality is that it’s bound to happen from time to time. Therefore, if you do doze off before taking your lenses out, don’t panic when you wake up.

While you should always take your contacts out before sleeping, there are steps you can take to minimize the risks if you do fall asleep wearing your lenses.

Carefully Remove Your Contacts

When you wake up, you want to remove your lenses as soon as possible. More than likely, your eyes will be dry and your contacts will be sticky. This can make removing your contacts difficult. Try blinking to moisten the lenses if you’re having trouble removing them.

Use Eye Drops

Once your contacts are out and soaking in contact lens solution, you’ll want to make sure your eyes are staying hydrated. Using eye drops designed for dry eyes can help. Use as needed throughout the day (while following all instructions on the label).

Wear Your Glasses

It’s important to give your eyes time to recover after sleeping with contacts in. If you have glasses, wear them in lieu of your contacts for a full day.

While you’re doing so, keep an eye out for any signs of infection, and contact your eye doctor right away if you notice any. If symptoms arise, bring your contact lenses (in their case) with you to your appointment as this can help in diagnosing the issue.

How Daily Contacts Can Help

No matter which type of contacts you have, you shouldn’t sleep with the lenses in unless you’ve been approved to do so by an eye care professional. Most lenses are not designed to be worn overnight or during sleep, and doing so can result in the potentially serious issues discussed above.

If you’re finding yourself not wanting to take your lenses out before bed too often, you may want to try daily contacts. While daily contacts, like other types of contacts, shouldn’t be worn while sleeping, they may make it easier to take your lenses out after a long day. That’s because daily contacts don’t require nightly cleaning.

Unlike other types of disposable lenses (such as monthly contacts) that need to be cleaned and soaked after use, daily contacts make it simple—just take them out and throw them away. Being that a new pair is used each day, there’s no need to deal with cleaning the lenses. This can save you time and provide that extra incentive to remove the lenses even if you’re feeling especially tired.

Not only that, but daily contacts are also a great way to protect your eyes against infection. Because a new pair of contacts is used daily, the lenses always stay fresh and free from deposits or bacteria that may lead to infection. As long as you wear them properly—and don’t wear them while sleeping—daily contacts can help keep your eyes clean and healthy.

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