Can Sleeping in Contacts Damage My Eyes?

Some contacts are designed such that you can sleep in them at night, but most are not.  Sleeping in contacts that have not been created for this purpose can damage your eyes in several ways.  Especially when you are tired, it can be tempting to skip contact removal and just go to bed with your contacts, but doing this can have dire consequences for your eyes. And, while you probably won’t experience major problems if you simply forget or fall asleep early once or twice, getting into the habit of leaving your contacts in at night can do long-term and permanent damage to your eyes.

Why is sleeping in my contacts a bad idea?

In order to maintain eye health, your cornea needs a regular supply of oxygen.  When your eyes are open during the day, your cornea can get the oxygen it needs from the air.  At night, oxygen is absorbed from the eyelids.  For daily contact users, the cornea is covered by the contacts and is unable to absorb much oxygen from the air.  It is critical for corneal health that oxygen is available at night, which is why contacts should not be worn during sleep.  Contacts that can be worn at night allow air to pass through the lens so that the cornea can get the oxygen that it needs, but most contacts are not manufactured with this purpose in mind.  Sleeping in your contacts deprives the cornea of its much-needed nighttime supply of oxygen.

In addition to oxygen deprivation, leaving contacts in at night creates conditions that are ideal for infections.  During the day, debris (including bacteria and viruses) may get under the contacts. Failure to remove the contacts at night allow the trapped microbes or viruses to multiply, and you are much more likely to end up with a bacterial or viral eye infection.  Common conditions associated with sleeping in contacts that are not designed to be worn to bed are listed below.

Sleeping in contacts can lead to keratitis.

Getting an infection with bacteria, fungi, or amoeba in the eyes can lead to an inflammation of the cornea called keratitis. This condition is often painful and can increase your sensitivity to light. Keratitis caused by amoebic infections is the most serious and difficult to treat. In fact, amoebic keratitis can cause vision loss.  Additionally, untreated keratitis can create corneal ulcers, which can even cause permanent blindness!

Contact lens wearers are more susceptible to conjunctivitis when contacts are not removed at night.

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is the most common and least serious complication associated with sleeping in your contacts.  This infection, usually caused by a virus, leads to inflamed and red eyes and swollen eyelids. Your eyes may ooze and become quite itchy and uncomfortable.  For those that develop giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC), bumps form on the inner eyelids. Though treatable, this condition is anything but pleasant, and can be avoided in most cases simply by removing your contacts at night!

Sleeping in contacts makes your eyes develop more blood vessels.

When your eyes are chronically deprived of oxygen because you wear your contacts to sleep, your body tries to make up for it through neovascularization, or the growth of more blood vessels in the eyes.  This is because your body is trying to get more blood supply to your eyes to increase the oxygen availability.  Unfortunately, this growth of blood vessels can cause vision impairments, as the blood vessels prevent light from travelling through the cornea as it normally would.

Though it might seem like a pain to make sure you remove your contacts each night before bed, your eye health depends on it! Taking a few minutes to care for your eyes at night can prevent these complications from occurring and save your eyesight.

It’s not worth risking your eyesight by sleeping in your contacts. Find out more about your eye health and how we can help you optimize your vision by calling 877.542.3937 today for a consult!