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Is Sleeping with Contacts Harmful?

Is Sleeping with Contacts Harmful?

Sometimes some contact lens users wake up in a panic, when they realize that they forgot to take out their lenses the night before. You have probably heard stories about how sleeping in your lenses can make you go blind. Read the following article to find out what really happens.
Gauri Huddar
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Is sleeping with contacts dangerous, and will it make me go blind?
No, it is not really dangerous, and the chances of you going blind because you slept in your lenses are extremely rare. Needle-in-a-haystack rare. But there are many harmful effects of sleeping with contacts, specially if they are daily wear contacts, and not extended wear contacts.
Is sleeping with contacts harmful for my eyes?
Yes, it is harmful, so it is safer to sleep without your lenses. We'll see in the following paragraphs what are the problems with sleeping with contact lenses.
Types of Contact Lenses
Contacts are classified into categories depending on the way they are intended to be used. Here is a broad classification based on using time:
  • Daily Wear Contact Lenses
  • Extended Wear Contact Lens
The next classification is based on the type of material used, and according to this, the contact lenses are classified as:
  • Rigid Contact Lenses
  • Hydrogel Contact Lenses
  • Silicone Hydrogel Contact Lenses
  • Hydogel Daily Disposable Contact Lenses
Depending on your needs, your optician may suggest either of two types of contact lenses.
Daily Wear Contact Lenses
These are the contact lenses that are only for daytime use. They have to be removed before going to bed. They are less moist as compared to the extended wear contact lenses, and hence, if you leave them on overnight unintentionally, you will wake up with sore and dry eyes. You may experience discomfort, itching, redness, and soreness in your eyes all day long. Sometimes, they may become really dry and stick to your eyes.
In such a case, it is best to add a few drops of saline solution to your eyes, or even a few drops of cool water, and leave your lenses in while you keep your eyes shut for a few minutes. Then the lenses will come out more easily. DO NOT sleep in daily wear contact lenses as they will damage your eyes severely, in the long term.
Extended Wear Contact Lenses
These are the lenses that have been designed to be worn during the day as well at night. They have more moisture than the daily wear contact lenses and hence, if you sleep in them, your eyes will not be dry when you wake up. These have been designed for continuous wear for up to two weeks, and if you use the silicone hydogel based contacts, then you may even be able to wear them for as long as 30 days. But make sure that you have the right type of lens, and that you read the instructions properly.
The hydrogel lenses are more moist than the rigid lenses and so, better for sleeping with, but they may still cause dryness. The hydrogel disposable lenses are the ones that can give you a safe night's sleep, but you have to dispose them according to your optician's instructions. The best ones to use are the silicone hydrogel lenses as they contain the most moisture and are supposedly 5 times less riskier than the hydrogel lenses.
FAQs About Sleeping with Lenses
What happens if I sleep in my contacts unintentionally?
Depending on the type on contact lenses you are wearing, there can be varying effects of sleeping with contacts. If you use daily wear lenses, then you may wake up with really dry eyes. You may find it really painful to blink till you splash some water in your eyes, and also experience some soreness, irritation, puffiness and redness in your eyes. In rare instances, the lenses may stick to your corneas due to the dryness.
On the other hand, if you are sleeping with extended use contact lenses, then you are quite safe. Depending upon the type of extended wear lenses that you are using, the effects may vary. Like it is mentioned in the above paragraphs, silicone hydrogel extended wear contact lenses are the safest, so if you notice that you tend to fall asleep without remembering to remove your contacts, it is best to switch to these lenses.
What do I do if I wake up with contacts and they are stuck in my eyes?
Firstly, do not, at any cost, try to wrench or pry them out of your eyes. If you are successful in this, you may end up severely damaging your cornea. This can lead to permanent visual impairment, and in rare cases even blindness. Just put a few drops of saline solution in your eyes and shut them for some time.
The solution will hydrate and moisten your lenses, so that they become soft and you can remove the contact lenses safely. If saline solution is not handy, then cool (not cold) water will work. Once you remove them, avoid wearing contacts for a day or two, to give your eyes some rest. Wear glasses instead, till your eyes feel normal again.
What if I forget to carry my glasses or a spare set of contacts for an overnight stay?
If this happens, it is best to remove the contacts and keep them in cool distilled water overnight. If you have no distilled water, a saline solution should do, but tap water is not good since it disturbs the pH balance and can cause harm to your eyes when you put the lenses back in. Although distilled/saline water is alright for one night as a last resort, avoid making a habit of it. If possible rinse them in solution before putting them back in your eyes.
Avoid wearing them while sleeping, as this may hurt your eyes when you wake up. After waking up, disinfect your lenses if you absolutely cannot manage without them, but it would be safer if you dispose lenses that have been left in water. If you do sleep in them, hydrate the lenses and your eyes properly in the morning, and avoid the usage of lenses immediately after this.
What happens if I sleep with my lenses? Is it really as harmful as it is made out to be?
Our eyes contain bacteria, on the surface of the cornea. Corneas need oxygen. Depending on the type of lenses you are using, the amount of oxygen provided by them to your cornea varies. When the bacteria increase to a noticeable number, we blink, so that a film of water wipes our corneas clean, and removes the bacteria. We blink often, so you can imagine how fast the bacteria grow.
When you wear contact lenses, it puts a cover on the cornea, trapping the bacteria on its surface, and reducing the oxygen supply to it. If you leave the lenses on for too long, it may give the bacteria enough time to settle down and start an infection or a disease. This is exactly what you do when you wear your contacts for more than the stipulated amount of time - you aid the bacteria in spoiling your eyes.
At night we do not blink or keep our eyes open, so the oxygen supply is reduced, so imagine the scenario if you are sleeping with lenses! In such cases, it is best to use the correct type of lenses, since sleeping with the wrong type of lenses will severely damage your eyesight.
So, which factors concerning contact lenses affect my eyes and sight?
The answer to that, as discovered by many opticians, is taking proper care of your lenses. Regular cleaning and disinfecting of your lenses is a must if you want to sleep with your contacts - only extended wear though. If you are not taking care of your contacts properly, and are falling into the habit of regularly sleeping with contacts, then you are making yourself more susceptible to long term risks, like corneal exhaustion syndrome and neovascularization.
What are the short term, and long term effects of sleeping with contact lenses?
Short term effects include
  • Redness, itching, puffiness
  • Temporary swelling of the eyeball or cornea
  • Mild scarring of the cornea
  • Blurred vision
  • Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea)
Long term effects include
  • Permanent visual distortion
  • Damaged cornea due to excessive scarring, and Corneal Exhaustion Syndrome
  • Neovascularization
  • Blindness (in rare and extreme cases)
What are the important things I should remember if I use contact lenses regularly?
Here are a few things that you should remember:
  • If they are daily wear contacts, remember to remove them before you sleep.
  • Dispose your contacts whenever they are meant to be disposed, or as the optician suggests, and get a new set.
  • Always remember to carry a spare set along, in case of emergencies.
  • Make sure that you are even replacing the contact case twice/thrice a year as you are supposed to do, and not avoiding it altogether.
  • Follow all the instructions regarding the care and cleaning of your lenses properly.
  • Avoid changing lenses with dirty hands, and store them properly.
Now that you know what happens if you sleep with contacts, it is better to avoid it. Else, switch over to the ones which are safe to sleep with. Its scary to wake up one day with blurred vision and temporary blindness, so can you imagine what the case will be, if these effects are not temporary? It is better to take proper care when using contact lenses, to have healthy eyes.