Written by: Katy Foster
Updated March 30, 2021
Approximately 45 million Americans use contact lenses to correct their vision, and about one-third of this population admits to wearing contacts while sleeping or napping (1). Given the relative frequency of sleeping with contacts in, it’s important to consider associated risks and preventative measures.
Is It Bad to Sleep with Contacts in?
Since contact lenses reduce moisture in your eyes, in most cases you’ll just wake up with dry eyes if you sleep with contacts in. There are, however, some more serious side effects that can result from overnight contact use.
Extended contact use deprives your eyes of oxygen, causing unnecessary strain to the cornea (2). Wearing contacts lenses too long can potentially damage your cornea’s surface, making your eyes more susceptible to infection. You’re as much as 6 to 8 times more likely to acquire an eye infection when wearing contact lenses while sleeping, whether you fell asleep with them in intentionally or not. Adolescents and young adults are more prone to developing contact lens-related eye infections, which is attributed to less rigorous hygiene (3).
Wearing contacts while sleeping is one of the highest risk factors for developing a serious eye infection and can occur with even sporadic overnight use. The risk is also the same regardless of lens material or type. Keratitis, or infection of the cornea, is the most common infection (4) linked to contact lens use. In more extreme cases, keratitis can scar the cornea and potentially cause vision damage.
Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is a less serious but still uncomfortable infection that can also arise from wearing contacts while sleeping.
Certain contact lenses are designed to be worn at night but still carry a risk of infection. Daily wear contacts, however, are not intended to be worn overnight because of the high infection risk and potential for irreversible vision loss.
What Should You Do if You Fell Asleep with Your Contacts in?
If you’ve fallen asleep with your contacts still in, it’s best to give your eyes a break by wearing your prescription glasses for the following day. This will help reoxygenate your eyes and reduce the risk of infection. The lenses might be more challenging to remove, but using sterile contact solution can help them come out more easily. Using eye drops can also rehydrate your eyes and reduce itchiness.
Should You See a Doctor After Sleeping with Your Contacts in?
If you’re not experiencing any negative symptoms after sleeping with contacts in, you may not need to see a doctor. The following symptoms, however, are associated with eye infections and should be addressed as soon as possible by a medical professional:
- Excessive redness in your eyes
- Blurry vision
- Pain in one or both eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Unusual discharge from your eyes
- A sense that something is stuck in your eye
In most short-term instances, wearing contacts while sleeping isn’t cause for alarm. If you do experience any unusual symptoms from extended contact use, the sooner you seek medical intervention, the better the outcome. The best way to prevent infection or dehydrated eyes is to remove your contacts as part of your bedtime routine.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30114003/ Accessed on March 26, 2021.
- https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/focusing-contact-lens-safety Accessed on March 26, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28817556/ Accessed on March 26, 2021.
- https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/contact-lens-related-eye-infections Accessed on March 26, 2021.