If your vision isn’t perfect, you might hate that moment when you wake up in the morning. As you open your eyes, everything is fuzzy or blurry, and the first thing you do is reach over to your bedside table to try to find your glasses. If you wear contact lenses, you might be tempted to sleep in them, just so you can see clearly when you wake up.
But even if you have extended-wear, soft contact lenses designed to wear overnight, it’s still safer to take them out when you’re sleeping. “Most people don’t know that even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves some soft contact lenses for overnight wear, it is never a good idea to fall asleep in them, and always bad for the eyes,” said Dan Twelker, an optometrist with Banner Health in Tucson, AZ.
He pointed out that around the time the FDA approved some contact lenses for overnight wear, LASIK surgery for vision correction was becoming popular, and LASIK posed its own risks, with possible permanent damage. So, the FDA was under pressure to approve overnight wear as an alternative. Nevertheless, taking your soft contact lenses out while you’re sleeping is much safer.
Dr. Twelker explained more about the dangers of keeping your contacts in overnight or when you’re napping.
What are the risks of sleeping with your contacts in?
Your eyes need oxygen, and when your eyes are open, oxygen can pass through the contact lens and supply air to your cornea. “When your eyes are closed, there’s not enough air exchange to keep the cornea healthy,” Dr. Twelker said. “Toxins build up, leading to inflammation and swelling. This can lead to a situation ripe for a painful corneal infection called keratitis or a corneal ulcer.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), keratitis is responsible for one million doctor visits a year.
In addition to keratitis, when you sleep with your contacts in, you’re at risk for:
- Other severe eye infection—every year, one in 500 contact lens users develops a serious eye infection
- Scratching your cornea
- Lenses that feel stuck to your eye and could peel off a layer from your cornea
- Corneal ulcers that could lead to scarring
If your eyes look bloodshot, that’s a sign that you may have poor contact lens habits. Your eyes become bloodshot when your blood vessels are trying to feed more oxygen to them. If this happens, you may also notice irritation or eye pain. If you have bloodshot eyes, wear your glasses and get in touch with your eye doctor for care—some eye infections can get worse quickly.
What can you do to keep your eyes healthy when you wear contact lenses?
Contact lenses are an excellent option for improving your vision. They can help you see better, and they’re a good choice for many sports and activities. Many people prefer the way they appear when they are wearing contact lenses rather than glasses. About 45 million people in the United States are contact lens wearers, and two-thirds of them are women.
Wearing contact lenses is safe if you have your lenses fitted by an optometrist, contact lens-qualified optician or ophthalmologist, and you see your eye doctor at least once a year. Your doctor can spot problems that might be developing even though you don’t notice any symptoms. You can often treat these problems by changing your lens care system or using a new type of contact lens.
According to the CDC, 40 to 90% of contact lens wearers don’t follow proper care instructions. And 99% of people who wear contact lenses have at least one behavior that could lead to infection or inflammation. To keep your eyes healthy, follow these tips for contact lens care:
- Make sure you know how to put in and take out your lenses and how to clean and disinfect them. If you’re not sure you’re taking care of your lenses properly, ask your eye care provider.
- Wash your hands with soap and water, then dry them with a clean cloth before handling your lenses.
- Use fresh disinfecting solution every time you store your contact lenses.
- Use the contact lens solution your eye care provider recommends.
- Clean your contact lens case with contact lens solution and store it upside down with the caps off.
- Replace your contact lens case every three months.
- Replace your contact lenses as often as your doctor recommends.
- Avoid wearing your lenses when swimming or showering, since water can introduce germs into your eyes.
- Wear your glasses a couple of times a week or in the evenings after work to give your eyes a break from contact lenses.
- Take your contacts out before you nap or sleep. Sleeping with your contacts in increases your risk of infection by up to 800%.
- When you remove your contact lenses, keep them in an approved disinfection solution or system. Do not use water.
- Never use saliva to rinse your contact lenses.
- Always have a pair of glasses available, so if you have any issues with your contact lenses, you can take them out.
The bottom line
Contact lenses are a popular choice for correcting your vision, and if you use them properly, they are very safe. Removing your lenses anytime you sleep is a key step in keeping your eyes healthy, happy and free of infection.
Have concerns about contact lens safety?
Schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist.