Almost anyone who wears contact lenses has experienced being extremely tired and wanting to just go to sleep without going through the routine of removing their contact lenses. Getting up, going to the bathroom, washing your hands, and removing your lenses can seem like torture when you are cozy in bed and ready to fall asleep at any second. So how important is it to actually get up and remove your contacts? What happens if you sleep in contacts?
Sleeping in contacts
Just like we need to breathe oxygen to live, our eyes need a supply of oxygen to be healthy as well. Contact lenses are designed to let a certain amount of oxygen pass through to our eyes. Different types of lenses allow different amounts of oxygen to pass through. During the day, because our eyes are open, the eye is able to get the oxygen that it needs. When we sleep, however, our eyes are closed and getting oxygen is more difficult. If there is an extra layer between our eye and the oxygen (the contact lens), it becomes that much more difficult for our eyes to get the oxygen that they need.
Contact lenses that are designed for “extended wear” allow more oxygen to reach the eye than standard contact lenses. For this reason, they can be worn for longer and sometimes are even safe to sleep in. Regular contact lenses, however, should not be slept in.
Is it bad to sleep with contacts?
If your contacts are not explicitly designed for extended wear (including sleep), then yes – it is bad to sleep with contacts in! What happens when you sleep in contacts is that your eye is not able to get the oxygen that it needs. As a reaction to this, the blood vessels in your eye can actually expand in an effort to take in more oxygen. This is a dangerous condition and if it becomes severe your eye doctor may revoke your contact lens prescription and require you to wear only glasses.
Sleeping in contact lenses can also result in corneal ulcers, open sores on the cornea that can lead to permanent vision loss in severe cases. These ulcers could require a corneal transplant, an eye procedure in which the cornea is removed and replaced with a new, clear, cornea.
Less serious complications include conjunctivitis, or pink eye. While extremely treatable, this condition of a red (or pink) eye with discharge and light sensitively is still very unpleasant.
What to do if you accidentally sleep with contacts in
If you accidentally fall asleep with your contact lenses in your eyes, be sure to remove them as soon as possible when you wake up. It is best to give your eyes a break from the contacts, and wear glasses for the day if possible. If your eye feels dry, lubricating eye drops should be applied after the lenses have been removed. If your eye is unusually red, sensitive, or you have blurred vision or eye discharge you should see your eye care professional immediately.