Can I sleep with my Contact Lenses in?
Wearing contacts while you sleep is one of the worst things you can do for your eyes. Your eyes rely on oxygen from the air to keep them healthy and hydrated, contact lenses can reduce the amount of oxygen your eyes receive.
With your eyes closed for an extended period of time, plus the added restriction of the contacts, your corneas can become oxygen deprived, which causes them to pull oxygen from nearby blood vessels, which consequentially can cause neovascularization. This refers to an unhealthy increase in blood vessels in the eye that leads to serious visual symptoms.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Sleeping in contact lenses increases the risk of contact lens related eye infections by six to eightfold. The most common hygiene mistake contact lens wearers make is wearing lenses while sleeping. While it might seem like no big deal to you, wearing contacts to bed is one of the worst things you could do to your eyes. Not only does sleeping with contacts increase the risk of eye infection, but it could also cause permanent damage to your corneas.
Can I Have A Nap With My Contact Lenses In?
Although we are all probably guilty of taking a short nap in our contact lenses it is still strongly advised against. While it's true that wearing contacts during a short nap is less of a risk than a full sleep cycle, that doesn't mean there's no risk at all. Even a 15-minute nap can seriously reduce the amount of oxygen reaching your eyes, putting you at greater risk of eye infections and corneal ulcers.
Which Contact Lenses Can You Sleep In?
According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) the only safe contact lenses to sleep in or nap in are extended wear contact lenses, these have been specifically created with sleeping in mind, so contain materials such as, lotrafilcon A, an Aquaform which makes sleeping in lenses much safer. These special ingredients make the lens more permeable, allowing up to 6 times more oxygen to the cornea.
Why Can't I Sleep In My Contact Lenses?
The cornea swells when you leave contacts in at night, which makes it far easier for bacteria to creep between the contact lens and the cornea. Doctors estimate that people increase their risk of contracting a bacterial infection sevenfold just by wearing contact lenses to bed.
The corneas' response to sleeping in contact lenses varies from no discernible effect to extreme pain and blurred vision. This can vary between individuals, and with different lens types and can even vary with the same individual on different occasions.
The degree of discomfort depends on the extent to which the cornea swells in response to the lack of oxygen. It usually does no permanent harm to the eye, although, if you get the painful response you will probably end up going to the eye hospital convinced that you are going blind!
Treatment is normally time without wearing your contact lenses, perhaps with some pain killers. Very few people are keen to repeat the experience!
Why Is Sleeping In Contacts Lenses Bad For Your Eyes?
There are several serious reasons your Optometrist advises you not to sleep in your contact lenses, here we list the 5 most common reasons not to sleep in your contact lenses:
Hypoxia of the eye
Simply put, Corneal Hypoxia is a lack of oxygen supply to the cornea. The cornea has no way to get its oxygen supply except through exposure to air. When you place a regular daily or monthly contact lens on your eye, this in itself reduces the availability of oxygen, add to that closed eyes for an extended period and the cornea can begin to swell or develop oedema. The oxygen-deprived cornea begins to build up lactic acid - just like aching muscles after too much exercise - and that draws water to the cornea. The fluid balance in the cornea is normally pretty stable, but in hypoxia, more water enters than leaves the eye, leading to oedema.
Hypoxia can range from mild to severe, mild cases may not be obvious to the sufferer but if the condition progresses it becomes more of a problem causing hazy or blurry vision and if it becomes severe it can cause more problems, to the extent of the development of cysts and even permanent ocular damage.
Wearing contact lenses to bed increases the risk of developing a corneal ulcer. Due to irritation and rubbing of the eye whilst sleeping, the contact lens wearer can damage the outer layer of the cornea, allowing bacteria to enter the eye and causing a corneal ulcer, an open sore on your cornea, the thin clear layer over your iris (the coloured part of your eye).
This one is serious, and can even lead to blindness according to the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Symptoms come on fast and require medical attention right away. We don't want to frighten you, but sleeping in contact lenses raises your risk of developing keratitis 10 times! People who get this terrible disease first experience intense eye pain during the night, which then leads to symptoms such as blurred vision and eye sensitivity. The keratitis bacterium can cause corneal ulcers and lead to total blindness if not diagnosed and treated early enough.
Although conjunctivitis (better known as "pink eye") is less dangerous than keratitis, it's still a hassle to deal with. This viral infection causes your eyes to ooze out a thick discharge, your eyes also become inflamed, red and very itchy. It's not a pretty sight.
Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis
Sleeping in your contact lenses also puts you at increased risk of developing giant papillary conjunctivitis, which causes uncomfortable bumps to appear on your inner eyelid.
What To Do If You Accidentally Sleep With Contact lenses In?
Whilst you should always remove your contact lenses before sleeping, accidents do happen. If you wake up from a nap or in the morning and discover you’ve slept in your contacts, Don’t Panic! As long as you haven't got significant eye pain, there’s usually no reason to visit your Optometrist.
The first thing you should do having realised you have slept in your contact lenses is to remove them, don't rush to do this, make sure you wash and dry your hands, if you find your lenses difficult to remove you will find applying a few re-wetting drops will help loosen the lens and aid removal.
If you are wearing daily contact lenses simply throw the contacts away.
If you are wearing monthly lenses, as long as there are no obvious signs of wear and tear, it’s usually OK to keep wearing them after they’ve been thoroughly disinfected, so clean and store them as you normally would.
It is best to give your eyes a break if you have worn your contact lenses overnight, so try wearing your glasses for the day, and let your eyes breathe freely to recover.
If, however, you notice symptoms like bloodshot eyes, severe eye itching, eye pain or blurred vision after wearing lenses to bed, you need to visit an Optometrist as soon as possible. The sooner an Optometrist can treat your eyes, the less pain and discomfort you will experience.
If you don't already wear daily disposable contact lenses, consider switching over to them. Daily disposable lenses are the best when it comes to reducing the risk of infection. All you have to do is throw the lenses out every night before going to bed, this not only greatly reduces the risk of infection, eye irritation, and lipid build-up but people are less likely to sleep in their contacts as there is no the hassle of a cleaning and storing routine.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 19 Oct 2017, Last modified: 15 Nov 2023