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Can sleeping in contacts damage my eyes?

By Joel Hunter, MD

The short answer is yes. But I’m guessing that more information would be helpful since you’re taking the time to read an article about it. Plus, everyone knows that sleeping in contacts can damage your eyes. I’ve met multiple people who have put a contact lens in their mouth to wet it before putting it back in their eye. They wanted to know if that could cause problems (it can). Yet, I have never met someone that wonders if sleeping in contacts can cause problems.

The reason there’s more depth to the question about sleeping contacts is that it’s not a black or white issue. Most of ophthalmology – most of medicine, as a whole – is comprised of good, better, and best rather than bad or good. There’s a spectrum of risks to your vision that spans from worst option all the way to best option. Sleeping in contacts doesn’t make it all the way to the absolute worst end of the spectrum. But it’s still a long way from being the best.

Why is it not great to sleep in contacts?

Here’s why: when we sleep, we make fewer tears. That makes sense because our eyes are closed. We don’t have to compensate for the constant evaporative loss we have with our eyes open. Our tear production has a circadian rhythm just like the rest of our physiology. Our bodies act differently when we’re sleeping than when we’re awake. That’s how the human machinery worked best over the hundreds of thousands of years that fine-tuned us.

But you know what wasn’t around during those pre-historic times? Contact lenses. Our eyes expect to have nothing in them when we’re sleeping. The only reason it’s even possible to fall asleep with contacts is because they were designed to feel like they aren’t there. It would be impossible to accidentally fall asleep with any other foreign object in your eye.

What about contacts that say you can sleep in them?

Contact lenses are masterfully designed to feel comfortable enough that sleep is possible while still wearing them. This is truer today than it ever was in the past. Along the way, scientists have figured out some great ways to make contacts easier on your eyes even while sleeping. The molecular structure of some of the newer contact lenses allows them to stay in while you’re sleeping without harming your eyes. It’s a good thing, too. Once contacts got comfortable enough to sleep in, it was necessary to figure out a way that people could do that without permanently damaging their eyes.

In conclusion, sleeping in your contacts is less ideal than sleeping without your contacts. There are contacts, however, that are specifically designed to be worn through the night. The best way to know if that’s okay for you is to pay attention to how your eyes feel. As a general rule, our eyes are really good at telling us if something is causing a problem. They’ll hurt or turn red or feel terribly dry. If that’s happening to you, then you should take out those contacts! Maybe get a new type from a contact lens specialist like Dr. Siergey. Or maybe it’s your body’s way of saying, “We should check out this whole LASIK thing.” You’ve got options. And in this case, you shouldn’t sleep on it before making a decision.

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These articles are brought to you by Hunter Vision. We help people in Orlando discover life after glasses and contacts.
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