We’ve all heard scary stories about what happens if you sleep in your contacts. In fact, there’s a recent report of someone going BLIND!
And yet, we all ask the same questions:
- How bad is it to sleep with contacts?
- Is it ok to nap in your contacts?
- Does it get worse if you sleep in them for more than one night?
With all these queries looming, WebEyeCare has put together a comprehensive guide covering what happens to your eyes if you fall asleep while wearing your contacts, what to do if this happens to you, and which contact lenses are FDA-approved to wear while you sleep.
Before we get started, we can’t help but sound this note of warning — never sleep in your contacts unless prescribed by your eye care provider!
What Happens if You Sleep with Contacts?
According to the CDC, three out of ten people sleep or nap in their contacts occasionally. Recent studies demonstrate that sleeping in any contact lens increases your chance of getting a severe eye infection, like acanthamoeba keratitis, by six to eight times.
About 18 to 20 people out of every 10,000 who sleep overnight in their contact lenses get microbial keratitis annually. If you’re amongst this select few, expect red eyes too.
So, scientifically speaking, what happens to your eyes when you sleep, and what happens if you sleep with contacts? Let’s take a closer LOOK.
What Does Sleeping With Contacts Do to Your Eyes?
Can you sleep with contacts? Here are the top five things you should know about sleeping in contacts:
Your Eyes Won’t Get Enough Oxygen
Your eyes require oxygen to stay healthy and appear white. No matter how advanced contact lenses are, the material used is less than 100% breathable. This make-up doesn’t allow for 100% of oxygen to pass into your cornea. Consequently, it’s not uncommon to see contact lenses have restrictions on how long you can continuously wear them daily.
The cornea, a transparent series of layers covering the front of the eye, gets oxygen from the air while you’re awake. Naturally, your eyes receive less oxygen when they are closed, like when you’re asleep. However, during that time, they receive lubrication and nutrition from tears and a clear watery fluid called “aqueous humor.”
So, what’s the aqueous humor?
In simple terms, it’s a natural fluid in your eye that maintains intraocular pressure and keeps your eyes healthy. During the day, your contact lens moves with each blink. Close to 1 mm, this movement allows oxygen passage to the cornea. When you sleep with contacts, you don’t blink, and the lenses don’t move to allow for more oxygen. Add the closed eyelid, and you have a dangerous combination since it critically reduces the amount of oxygen needed for healthy eyes.
Your Eyes Are More Likely to Get Infected
If you wear contact lenses, you may not be surprised by the fact that it’s easier for you to get a corneal ulcer, an infection like fungal or bacterial keratitis than those who don’t wear contacts.
When you sleep in your contacts, you add oxidative stress, making your eyes even more vulnerable to bacteria. Without oxygen, the cornea of your eye begins to swell, and this swell, in turn, creates gaps between the eye’s epithelium cells. Due to these spaces, bacteria get trapped and multiply.
Most times, eye drops (antibiotic, steroid, or antifungal) are vital in treating mild infections.
On the flip side, severe or untreated diseases may lead to more severe complications, like corneal neovascularization – the invasion of new blood vessels into superficial or deep areas of the cornea – causing permanent damage to your eyes and even vision loss.
That’s why it is important to follow best practices in taking care of your contacts.
You May Scratch the Lining of Your Eyelid and Get Dry Eyes
If your eyes become dry while asleep, your eyelids may stick to your cornea. When you wake up and try to open your eyes, you may rip off some of your cornea’s epithelium, leading to corneal abrasion and pain.
So, how do you know if you scratched your eye? For starters, you will feel pain and the sensation of a foreign body in your eye. Other signs may include redness or pink eye (bacterial conjunctivitis), sensitivity to light, blurred vision tearing, eye irritation, headache, and nausea.
Contact your eye doctor immediately if you feel any described symptoms or discomfort in your eyes.
The Longer You Wear Contacts in Your Sleep, The More Dangerous It Is for Your Eyes
Wearing contacts to sleep is a huge risk. The more you nap in your contacts, the more eye damage you might have.
When you sleep with your contacts in for the first time, your eyes may seem okay. As a result, you might not think it is terrible to sleep with contacts. However, it’s crucial to note that the problems that arise from sleeping in contacts may not be evident until after a while.
Thus, avoid taking naps while wearing contacts. While sleeping for 15-20 minutes may not seem long, the eyes’ environment is different. When you close your eyes for a relatively short period, you deprive your eyes of oxygen, making your cornea more susceptible to infections.
According to Angela Bevels, a doctor of optometry (OD) who’s also the founder and owner of Elite Dry Eye Spa in Tucson, Arizona, your lenses can trap germs and other potentially harmful elements that have attached themselves to the lenses during the day. These germs love the warm and moist environment between the lens and your eye and may cause extensive damage to your cornea.
When you keep wearing your contacts at night while you sleep, you’re helping bacteria proliferate in your eyes while also depriving your eyes of oxygen, adding more risks to your eye health. The longer you sleep in your contacts, the more dangerous it gets for your eyes. Even a short nap may be risky and cause eye problems.
Extended Wear Lenses Are Contacts You Can Sleep in (FDA-approved)
The first FDA-approved soft extended wear contacts were introduced in 1981, not gaining popularity until the 1990s.
Extended wear contact lenses are designed for continuous wear, overnight inclusive, typically for six consecutive nights. Overnight contact lenses are made from newer materials like silicone hydrogel, allowing extended wear periods (up to a month). You can also describe these lenses as “continuous wear” contacts.
Today, several contact lens brands like Acuvue Oasys, Air Optix HydraGlyde, and Biofinity offer contacts you can sleep in for bi-weekly and monthly replacements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves these contact lenses for overnight wear. Therefore, you can occasionally keep them in when you go to bed.
Even with overnight contacts, the risk of getting a severe eye infection if you sleep in them significantly increases. Regardless, there’s no safer option than removing your contact lenses before you take that snooze.
Why Are Extended Wear Contacts Better Suited for Sleep?
Here are some notable reasons why extended wear contacts are better suited for sleep:
- Their design is more porous and allows more oxygen to pass through the lens.
- These lenses are thinner than daily-wear soft lenses.
- Their make-up integrates silicone hydrogel material.
Silicone hydrogel lenses have lower lens wettability because of the added silicone. While it may not be a problem for most wearers, you might feel more eye discomfort from dryness than you would experience wearing a hydrogel lens.
Though the FDA approved the extended wear lenses for overnight use, it’s not ideal for everyone. Only your eye care provider can prescribe such lenses for you. Thus, always follow your doctor’s recommendations for your wearing schedule.
What to Do If You Accidentally Slept in Your Contacts?
If you accidentally fall asleep with contacts in, you may want to be careful with how you handle the situation once you’re awake. Telling your eye doctor about this event and following their recommendations is usually the best course of action.
However, before the doctor’s appointment, check the condition of your eyes. If they are dry, you may want to use eye drops to wet your eyes as much as possible.
That said, also check if your contacts got stuck to your eye or dried out. The last thing you’d want is to tear your cornea (which is easy to do if you slept in your contacts). After washing your hands with warm water and soap, carefully check if your contact slides or moves easily.
If it slides around easily, remove the contact lenses as soon as possible (you should do this gently without causing harm to the cornea). Although it may be difficult if the lens is dry, artificial tears, saline solution, and frequent blinking can help moisten them up. However, don’t hesitate to contact your eye doctor if you need help.
Before putting them back in, allow your contacts to stay in the solution for at least a few hours, and this will give your eyes the needed rest.
Check if your eyes are irritated, hurt, or itchy. Contact your eye doctor if you have any discomfort or concerns regarding your eye health. Here, you can ask your optician if extended wear contacts or disposable daily contacts are ideal for your lifestyle.
How to Treat Your Eyes After Sleeping With Contacts?
Depending on the severity of your situation, you may need an eye exam and immediate medical care. After sleeping in contact lenses, your eyes are more likely to be irritated and deprived of oxygen. You could have a swollen cornea, multiplying bacteria, and dryness.
Eye care professionals recommend only sleeping in contact lenses designed and approved for extended wear. Your eye doctor must recommend these lenses to you alongside a wearing schedule. Some people are better candidates for overnight wear, and only your eye care professional may advise you on using them while sleeping.
Sleeping in your contacts is associated with corneal infections, and recent studies show that corneal diseases may require surgery. These operations have adverse effects as they could damage your eyes and possibly lead to permanent vision loss. However, it’ll be best to seek specific professional recommendations on treating eyes after sleeping with contacts.
Can You Take a Nap with Contacts?
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, even a short, one-hour nap with contacts can put your eye health at risk.
Long-distance traveling, unplanned overnight stays, and any emergency may cause you to unintentionally fall asleep in your contacts for a short or long period. While quick naps may seem less risky than sleeping overnight, napping with contacts is not recommended, not even for a mere 15 minutes.
Therefore, if you wear weekly or monthly disposable contact lenses, we recommend bringing a contact case and a bottle of contact lens solution with you wherever you go. If that option is not convenient for you, you may ask your eye care professional if daily disposable contact lenses are a good option for you. Ensure that your prescription specifies the type and brand of the contact lenses that you can purchase and wear.
Daily disposable contacts are great for those who don’t want to carry a lens solution and a case with them. Grabbing an extra pair of these contacts with you spares you from having to choose between throwing away your good lenses ahead of schedule and facing the risks of sleeping in your contacts.
Additionally, you can ask your eye care professional if extended wear contacts are suitable for your eyes. These lenses may minimize some risks associated with sleeping in your contacts.
Can I Sleep With Contacts?
It is not safe to sleep with contact lenses as it increases corneal infection risk.
Are Contacts Better Than Glasses at Providing Vision?
Yes. Contacts rest comfortably on the eye’s curvature, giving a wider field of view and excellent focus compared to glasses. Contact lens users also do not worry about weather conditions, reflections, and scratched lenses.
What Happens if I Accidentally Sleep With Contacts?
Sleeping with contacts prevents the eye from getting enough oxygen and hydration required to avoid bacterial or microbial invasion. Remove lenses immediately if you accidentally sleep with them, and give your eyes at least a day to recover before putting them on again.
Can I Swim With Contacts?
Swimming with contacts can cause infections, irritations, and potentially sight-threatening conditions like corneal ulcers. The American Optometric Association recommends that you avoid going into lakes, swimming pools, the oceans, hot tubs, and even showers with your contact lenses on.
Can I Sleep With Daily Wear Contacts?
Sleeping with any contact lens increases the risk of eye irritation, swelling, redness, corneal ulcers, and infections.
Can I Leave Colored Contacts Overnight?
Colored contacts usage must follow the same guidelines as clear contacts. Most colored contacts are usable for up to 8 to 12 hours daily. However, the length of time you can safely use colored contacts depends on the manufacturer and brand.