Sleeping with Contacts

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Why You Shouldn’t Sleep in Your Contact Lenses

You may wear contact lenses to improve your vision because of one of the following refractive errors:

  • Myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Hyperopia (farsightedness)
  • Astigmatism (distorted vision)
  • Presbyopia (changes to near-distance vision that often occurs with aging)

However, these thin, transparent plastic disks pose certain health risks, especially when you wear them overnight. 

stack of disposal contact lense isolated on white

You are recommended not to leave contact lenses in because oxygen does not reach your eyes efficiently. When this happens, cells in the cornea go into a state of hypoxia (low oxygen). A low-oxygen environment also promotes bacterial growth.

This primary cause and other physiological reasons could increase your likelihood of developing an eye infection. If severe enough, the infection could even lead to permanent vision loss. 

When you sleep in any type of contact lenses, your risk of microbial keratitis (a severe corneal infection) increases by 6 to 8 times. 

What Happens to Your Eyes When You Sleep in Contacts 

When you sleep in contacts, you don’t let your eyes breathe properly. In other words, oxygen does not fully reach the surface of the eye because of the contact lenses. 

When this happens, your eye can grow more blood vessels, and you can experience redness and irritation. You can also have other problems with the cornea. 

Contact lens wearers may find that removing contact lenses becomes more difficult because of dryness. In these cases, you are recommended to use contact lens rewetting eye drops before taking out the lenses. Doing this will help prevent damage to the corneal surface. 

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Side Effects & Risks of Sleeping with Contacts 

Contact lenses have some side effects and risks. 

As mentioned before, you can develop redness, irritation, or dryness of the eye. The severity of this problem can vary depending on the type of contact lenses you’re wearing when you go to sleep. 

As you’ll read later on, though, some contact lenses are more suitable for overnight wear. Differences in material and design allow for better oxygen flow. 

Yet, even then, the risk of eye infection is still present. 

Signs of an Eye Infection 

Here is a list of symptoms associated with contact lens-related infections:

  • Blurry vision
  • Unusual redness of the eye
  • Eye pain
  • Itchy eyes
  • Tearing or discharge from the eye
  • Extra sensitivity to light 
  • A sensation of something in the eye

Some contact lens-related eye infections can cause serious vision loss or even blindness. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your optometrist as soon as possible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18-20 microbial keratitis infections will occur annually in every 10,000 people who leave in their contact lenses overnight.  

How to Treat Your Eyes After Sleeping in Contacts

If you fall asleep with your contact lenses still in, there are a couple of steps you should take immediately afterwards:

  • Remove contact lenses. Take out your contacts as soon as possible. Doing this will lessen your risk of infection and further eye dryness. If you find it difficult, then place several drops of contact lens rewetting drops in your eyes and blink. This should help dislodge the lenses for easier removal. You want to remember to not pull at the contact lenses. This tugging motion could cause abrasions to the surface of your eye. 
  • Wear eyeglasses for at least a day. Hold off on wearing contact lenses for one whole day. You want to rest your eyes and let them breathe again. Also, be on the lookout for any possible infection symptoms. If you notice something strange, get in contact with your ophthalmologist or optometrist.

Non-prescription contact lenses can result in serious eye problems and even lead to a corneal transplant. If you wear these overnight, the risk increases. It is important to speak with an eye doctor before using this type of lens.  

What Contacts are Approved for Sleeping?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved different kinds of contact lens for day and overnight wear. These include:

  • Extended wear. You can wear these lenses overnight from one to six nights or up to 30 days. Because these lenses are made of flexible silicone hydrogel plastics, a higher amount of oxygen can reach the cornea. You’ll see that most extended wear contact lenses are often soft contact lenses. Only a few rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses are available and suitable for overnight wear. After each scheduled removal of these contact lenses, eye care professionals recommend that you rest your eyes for at least one day and wear eyeglasses. 
  • Overnight orthokeratology (Ortho-K) lenses. These RGP contact lenses help change the curvature of the cornea. In doing so, the eye can focus on objects better. Eye care professionals often prescribe this type of contact lens for people with myopia (nearsightedness). If you use Ortho-K lenses, you may be recommended to sleep with them on for at least 8 hours per night. Ortho-K lenses are then removed in the morning, and the wearer can enjoy clearer vision throughout the day with no glasses or contacts.  

The risk of microbial keratitis is higher in people who use extended-wear lenses.  

Sleeping With Contacts: Common Questions and Answers

What if I accidentally fall asleep in contacts one night?

If you fall asleep with your contact lenses still in, you should remove your contact lenses immediately and wear eyeglasses for at least a day. If it is too difficult to take out the lenses, place some contact lens rewetting drops in your eyes. This will help provide some extra lubrication and dislodge the lenses without damaging the corneal surface.  

Contact lenses

Can you sleep with contacts for one hour?

If you have extended wear contact lenses, it is possible to sleep with them in for one hour. But each time you sleep with contacts, even if for an hour, you increase your risk of an eye infection. It is recommended to avoid falling asleep with the contact lenses still in. 

How does sleeping in contacts raise your risk of infection?

Sleeping in contact raises your risk of infection because your eye does not receive enough oxygen or remain optimally moist to fight off harmful bacteria and viruses. Also, certain bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa may find it easier to colonize the contact lenses if left in for more extended periods. 

Can sleeping with contacts cause headaches?

Sleeping with contacts may cause headaches, although not always. The headaches may occur because of dry eyes caused by the lack of oxygen flow and moisture. When you have dry eyes, you can become more sensitive to light and squint in response. This constant squinting can sometimes trigger a muscle tension headache. 

When should I see my doctor?

You should visit your ophthalmology clinic if you suspect you have an eye infection. It is important that you bring your contact lens case with you. Do not throw your contact lenses away. Your eye doctor can culture the lens to understand and treat the source of your eye problem. 

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Resources
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Boyd, K. (2020, June 23). Contact lens-related eye infections. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/contact-lens-related-eye-infections

Boyd, K. (2021, March 04). Contact lenses for vision correction. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.aao.org/eye-health/glasses-contacts/contact-lens-102

Fleiszig, S., & Evans, D. (2010, April). Pathogenesis of contact lens-associated microbial keratitis. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4379041/

Show me the science. (2016, September 14). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/contactlenses/show-me-the-science.html

Turbert, D. (2020, June 19). What is bacterial keratitis? Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.aao.org/eye-health/glasses-contacts/what-is-bacterial-keratitis

What happens to your eyes when you sleep in your contacts. (2020, November 10). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-does-sleeping-in-your-contacts-do-to-your-eyes/

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