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Can You Sleep with Contact Lenses In?

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A close-up of a woman with red eyes due to sleeping with contact lenses.

As a contact lens wearer, whether or not you can sleep in your contact lenses depends on several factors. If your contact lenses fit comfortably and properly, you may sometimes forget that you’re wearing them before you go to bed.

Some manufacturers make contact lenses approved for overnight wear, which you can technically sleep in. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

The Problem with Wearing Contact Lenses Overnight

Every day, our eyes are exposed to airborne contaminants including viruses, fungi, and bacteria. The role of your cornea is, in part, to defend your eyes against germs. Moisture and oxygen are two components that enable the cornea to do its job. 

When you wear a contact lens, it sits on the eye’s surface. The lens material is designed to allow the cornea to continue absorbing moisture and oxygen.

When your eyes are closed, your contact lenses cannot allow the same level of oxygen or moisture to reach your eye. This can lead to corneal hypoxia: the most common complication from overnight contact lens use.

Extended Wear Contact Lenses

It’s important to note that there are various types of contact lenses, and some are approved in Canada for extended wear—up to 30 days. But it’s equally important to remember that not everyone’s eyes are suited for this type of lens.

An extended-wear lens is specially designed for maximum breathability. However, the lens still covers your cornea. Extended-wear lenses can reduce the risk of complications, but not completely eliminate them.

If you have risk factors like occasional dry eye symptoms, your eye doctor may prescribe a lens that you remove every night.

A banner with the written word Keratitis, an eye test chart, and blue eye. Improper handling or wearing contact lenses overnight could result in potentially serious infections.

Potential Complications of Sleeping in Contact Lenses

We see patients regularly with contact lens-related complications, such as dry eyes or infections. Improper handling or wearing contact lenses overnight could result in a potentially serious infection.

Fungal Keratitis

Candida, Fusarium, and Aspergillus are three fungal species which can cause fungal keratitis. Although this corneal infection is rare, it can cause severe vision loss and be difficult to treat It often occurs after scratching the eye.

Oral and topical antifungal medicines are typically prescribed as treatment. In rare cases, scarring on the cornea may require corneal surgery

Bacterial Keratitis

Bacterial keratitis is much more common than the fungal variant. Due to the variety of bacterial species that can cause this keratitis, severity can range widely between cases. The main risk factor for bacterial keratitis is contact lens wear.

Topical antibiotic medications are typically the first line of treatment, though sometimes they need to be used as often as every hour around the clock. If the bacteria isn’t responsive to treatment, a corneal scraping is often taken and cultured to try to find a different medication that will work. 

Acanthamoeba Keratitis

The tiny amoeba called Acanthamoeba is responsible for causing Acanthamoeba keratitis. Like the fungal variant, this keratitis is rare. However, it also tends to be quite painful and the drops used to treat it are not very effective unless the infection is caught early.

Acanthamoeba is commonly found in natural bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. So, rinsing your contact lenses with tap water or getting water in your eyes can increase your risk of contracting this type of keratitis.

Accidentally Falling Asleep Wearing Contact Lenses

You may be reading this now and thinking back, trying to remember if you’ve accidentally fallen asleep with your contact lenses in before. Rest assured, there is little chance of permanent damage after a single time of forgetting lenses in your eyes.

However, if you do accidentally sleep in your contact lenses, they may feel uncomfortable the following morning. When you go to remove them, place a couple drops of sterile contact lens solution or suitable eye drops in your eye to hydrate and safely remove the lens.

Afterward, avoid wearing your contact lenses for a full day to allow your eyes time to rehydrate and oxygenate. If you notice signs of infection, contact your eye doctor as soon as possible and ask about the next steps.

Infection symptoms may include:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Excessive watering
  • Light sensitivity
  • Painful bumps or lumps
  • Irritated feeling

Find Out More About Contact Lens Health & Safety

Your eyes are as unique as you are. The type of contact lens prescribed for you depends on the health of your eyes and your lifestyle.

A contact lens exam and fitting can help determine which type of lenses are best for you. During this exam, your eye doctor can answer your questions about contact lens care.

Contact us and book your next exam today.

dr darren schamber

Written by Dr. Darren Schamber

Originally from Cold Lake, AB, Dr. Schamber received his Doctor of Optometry degree with honours from the University of Waterloo in 1997, after which he completed a residency in ocular disease and surgical co-management at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami. He spent one year as a staff optometrist at The Eye Institute in New Port Richey, FL, before returning to Canada to open Vista Eyecare in 2003.

Dr. Schamber has lectured for the Canadian Diabetes Association regarding the effects of diabetes on the eye, to family physicians on emergency eye care, and to ophthalmology residents about contact lens fitting and assessment.

He was the chair of the Saskatchewan Association of Optometrists’ Continuing Education Committee for nearly 10 years and has also served on its Practice Appraisal Committee. Dr. Schamber was recognized by Bausch & Lomb for excellence in the field of contact lenses and now maintains a special interest in ocular disease and surgical co-management.

Dr. Schamber is married to Dr. Nadia Lypka, also an optometrist in Saskatoon, and has two sons, Andrew and Luke. He likes soccer, snowboarding, water sports, and coffee. When not at the office, he can often be found at the SaskTel Sports Centre or the Saskatoon Field House watching his boys’ activities.

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