Life catches up with you fast, and everyone likes to enjoy a nap from time to time. When you’re exhausted after a long day, you may wonder if it’s worth taking off your contact lenses, or you may accidentally drift off while they’re still in your eyes.
Despite the reasonable urge, you shouldn’t nap with contact lenses in, unless your contacts are designed for it and your optometrist approves. Falling asleep wearing contacts could increase your risk of infection and irritation. You’ve already taken the time to get your contacts fitted for your eyes, so it’s best to take an extra moment to ensure your lenses and eyes are kept safe.
Why You Shouldn’t Nap with Your Contact Lenses
Contact lenses are designed to sit directly on your eye. Your optometrist uses advanced measurement tools to map the front of your eye and determine your tear film quality all to give you the best-fitting lenses possible.
Contact lenses are designed to allow oxygen to pass through to your cornea while providing clear vision. Your cornea is the clear front dome of your eye. It protects the rest of your eye from bacteria and needs oxygen to stay healthy. Unfortunately, your eyes don’t receive the same amount of oxygen when your eyelids are closed.
Think of it this way: You can put a thin blanket over your head and breathe fine. But if you keep adding blankets, the lack of oxygen will eventually catch up to you. Your contact lenses plus your eyelids are blankets that can suffocate your eyes, leading to a condition called corneal hypoxia.
The more time spent restricting the amount of oxygen reaching your eyes, the more damage you could do.
The Dangers of Sleeping with Contacts In
There are other risks associated with sleeping while wearing your contact lenses, in addition to a lack of oxygen. For example, if you wear soft contact lenses that absorb a lot of water, you could wake up with dry eyes. However, a big one is the risk of infections.
The world has a lot of germs and bacteria in it, and our eyes face this every day. Thankfully, our cornea protects our eyes. When the cornea is hydrated and oxygenated, it acts as a natural defense against contaminants. However, if our corneas don’t get enough oxygen, which could happen if you sleep in contacts, they could actually lose their ability to effectively fight bacteria.
Infections caused by napping or sleeping in your contacts come in several different types.
Bacterial keratitis can occur when bacteria are transferred from your fingers to your contacts, such as when you put your contacts in or take them out. This can also happen if you wear contact lenses for a long time, like if you’re sleeping.
Bacteria that cause this infection, such as pseudomonas aeruginosa and staphylococcus aureus, can be found in soil, water, but most relevantly, your own body. Extended-wear contact lenses can cause added risk in developing this condition, and if left untreated, keratitis can scar your cornea, which can possibly lead to blindness.
Typically these bacteria can be dealt with using eye drops, though serious infections might require steroid drops to resolve.
Occasionally, water sources can have tiny, single-celled organisms called acanthamoebae living in them. You can find these amoebas in natural bodies of water, tap water, and hot tubs. If they get in your eyes, they can cause acanthamoeba keratitis.
This infection is rare but painful. Because many soft contact lenses are made of hydrogel designed to absorb water, they’re friendly environments for these tiny creatures. So now let’s say you rinse your lenses with tap water, go for a swim, then sleep with your contacts in. While you sleep, you’re robbing your corneas of oxygen and reducing their ability to protect themselves from microorganisms.
Treatment requires a long regimen of medicated eye drops. In severe situations, surgery may be used as a last resort.
Fungal keratitis is another rare but nevertheless uncomfortable infection caused by 3 fungal species: candida, fusarium, and aspergillus. It’s more common in tropical parts of the world but can happen nearly anywhere.
While sleeping in your contacts can increase your risk of developing this condition, it’s generally related to an injury involving a plant, like getting scraped by thorns or sticks. The fungi can live in your mucus membranes (the thin lining in your eyes, nose, and mouth). As mentioned earlier, if your cornea has been oxygen-starved, it could become more susceptible to infection.
Treatment involves antifungal medication and is vital to prevent you from losing sight in the infected eye.
What to Do If You Fall Asleep with Contacts In
The first thing to do if you accidentally fall asleep with your contacts in is not to worry. Accidents happen, and you may not see any damage after one short nap in your lenses.
You’ll probably realize quickly if you’ve slept in your contacts because your eyes may feel irritated. Carefully remove the lenses as soon as you can. You might have trouble getting the lenses out, especially if they’ve dried. Do not tug at them.
Instead, put in some eye drops or sterile contact lens solution to moisten the lenses. Then, blink a couple times to spread the lubrication around and try to remove them again.
It’s a good idea to give your eyes a break from contact lenses after this. You’ll want to make sure your eyes have a chance to absorb ample amounts of oxygen. Take a day off from wearing contacts and watch for any signs of eye infection. It’s worth noting that the potential for eye infection is reason to always have a pair of backup glasses, even if you mainly wear contacts.
Some symptoms of eye infection can include:
- Feeling like something is in your eye
- Mucus, pus, or excessive tearing
- Red eyes
- Light sensitivity
If you suspect you might have an eye infection, see your optometrist as soon as you can.
The Bottom Line About Napping in Contacts
While taking a quick snooze without having to go through the hassle of removing your contacts may be tempting, the risks simply aren’t worth it. Your eyes need oxygen to stay healthy, and sleeping with your contacts in can prevent them from getting what they need.If you have any questions about caring for your contacts or your eye health, please contact our team at Vista Eyecare!