What Happens to Your Eyes When You Sleep in Your Contacts

Irritated eyes are just the beginning if you leave your contacts in too long
washing contact

Do you ever fall asleep wearing your contact lenses? It’s hard to remember every night to take out your contacts and it’s not always convenient, either.

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But if you’ve done it, you know the morning struggle to get those dried out sticky lenses unstuck from your eyeballs might be even more frustrating.

Sleeping in lenses was the most common offense reported by people who wear contacts according to a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

You know it’s bad for your eyes. But sometimes you might think not having to go through the trouble of taking out your contacts is worth the risk.

What happens if you sleep in contact lenses

“Redness and irritation is a common problem if you leave your contacts in when you sleep. But you can also experience other problems with your cornea, which is the front surface of your eye,” says ophthalmologist Allison Babiuch, MD.

“It’s important to give the eyes a break and let the cornea breathe, and when your eyes and contacts dry out too far you can cause damage when you pull it off,” she says.

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Despite some contact lenses being approved for overnight wear, Dr. Babiuch says she still doesn’t recommend them.

Sleeping in daily wear contacts also greatly increases your risk for eye infections

Contact lens advice to keep your eyes healthy

CDC researchers found that six out of seven contact lens wearers reported at least one risky behavior when it came to their contact lenses.

“Your eyes are sensitive and very susceptible to damage, so making sure you take care of them is extremely important,” Dr. Babiuch says. “Think of how difficult it is to go about your day when your eyes are irritated in any way — so being proactive is really recommended.” 

To reduce the risk of developing any negative symptoms or an eye infection, don’t do the following things:

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  • Sleep in your contact lenses.
  • Reuse disposable contacts.
  • Swim in your contacts.
  • Forget to replace disposable lenses frequently enough.
  • Use the same contact lens case for more than three to four months.
  • Rub your eyes with dirty hands.
  • Share contacts with another person.
  • Buy fashion contact lenses.

Do these things to keep your eyes healthy and safe from infection:

  • Wash hands with soap and water before handling contact lenses.
  • Rinse your lenses with contact lens solution only. Tap water can contain micro particles that can irritate your eyes. 
  • Rub the lenses gently with your fingertips (even if the lens packaging advises against it) to remove bacteria and debris that has stuck to the surface, then rinse them again in a new squirt of solution.
  • Replace cases every three to four months to reduce bacteria.
  • Store lenses in a clean case with fresh solution every single day.
  • Only buy contact lenses from a healthcare professional. Fashion contact lenses can be risky because contact lenses need to be specially fitted to each individual’s eyes.

Signs of an eye infection and what to do

If you experience decreased vision, redness, watering and discharge you may have an eye infection.

If removing a lens doesn’t help the irritation, it’s time to visit an eye doctor — and don’t forget to bring the problematic lens too.

“Take the contact lens out, but keep it, don’t throw it away,” Dr. Babiuch says. “Put it in a contact lens case and bring it with to your appointment — if we do see signs of infection we can also culture the contact lens to get closer to both understanding and treating the problem.”

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