Why You Should Never Sleep in Your Contact Lenses

blue eye lens

Out of an estimated 45 million Americans wearing contact lenses, reports are emerging that a big percentage of this population is at high risk of developing serious eye conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sleeping in contact lenses could lead to corneal infections. While the modern contact lens is designed to be wearable with ease as well as for comfortability, you should always follow your manufacturer and optometrist instructions. Sleeping with contact lenses is one of the ‘bad habits’ that is causing serious eye complications for thousands of wearers. With cases of people going blind on the increase, we tell you exactly why you should never sleep in your contact lenses.

The Science Explained

So, how do contact lenses affect the cornea? Your eyes have tissues which require sufficient supply of oxygen for proper functioning. When you’re awake, you blink constantly throughout the day, hence cleaning your contact lenses. Likewise, your eyes get oxygen from the air and your tears.

However, when you sleep, there’s little oxygen supply from the air since your eyelids are closed. The low oxygen permeation, lack of movement and darkness in your eyes create a favorable environment for bacteria to thrive. This situation worsens when you sleep with your contact lenses due to the barrier created by the plastic, further preventing oxygen from getting into your eyes. This leads to a condition known as corneal neovascularization where small blood vessels develop in the cornea to supply the area with oxygen.

Additionally, when you sleep with your contact lenses, they may tighten while on the eyes, which can rip your cornea causing cornea ulcer, an open sore on the front surface of your eyes. This increases the risk of eye inflammation, abrasions or infections.
While there are various types of contact lenses designed for overnight sleep, it’s never recommended to sleep or even nap with your contact lenses on.

Reports by the CDC

Statistics issued by the CDC show that one in every five contact lens wearers suffers from a serious corneal infection that could lead to eye damage. The report on six case studies on people suffering from eye infections goes on to say that one in every three contact lens wearers admits to napping or sleeping in them. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives detailed accounts of teens and adults who slept in their contact lenses. Here are highlights from two cases:

  • A 57-year old man who wore and slept with the same contact lenses for two weeks without disinfecting them suffered from acute eye pain and his vision became blurry. The infection in one eye responded to treatment while the other eye had to undergo surgery to restore his vision.
  • In another account, a 17-year old girl purchased contact lenses at a store without a prescription. After sleeping in them, a corneal ulcer developed in one eye. Luckily, she was treated and her vision was restored. However, the scar on her cornea is a constant reminder of what happened.

Symptoms of an Eye Infection

Some of the symptoms associated with injuries to your cornea include:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Redness in the eyes.
  • Irritation.
  • Loss of vision.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Eye strain and pain.

Caring for Your Contact Lenses

When used the correct way, contact lenses are safe and effective in vision correction. The problem starts when you fail to wear and care for your contact lenses as instructed by your optometrist. According to Thomas Steinemann, MD, a co-author of the CDC report, the casual attitude people are having towards contact lenses and other medical devices increase the risks of infections. The following tips will help you prevent the chances of ending up with a corneal transplant.

  1. Check in with your eye doctor before buying contact lenses. You need to have an eye exam so that you can be given the correct prescription. Also, see your doctor once or twice a year to determine the health of your eyes.
  2. Never sleep with your contact lenses, even when taking a nap.
  3. Always use a fresh solution to put your contact lenses every night. If it has a screw cap, make a point of replacing it too. Never mix an old solution with a new one to avoid exposing your contact lenses to dirt, and hence bacteria. Leaving the contact lenses overnight in the solution disinfects them.
  4. Remember to rinse off the contact lenses with the solution using clean hands before putting them on.
  5. Always clean the contact lenses case with hot water and soap to keep bacteria at bay. You should replace the case every three months.

Other Bad Habits to Avoid

Apart from sleeping in contact lenses, the U.S. CDC warns contact lens wearers to avoid the following bad hygiene habits.

  • Cleaning contact lenses using tap water.
  • Handling contact lenses with hands that aren’t properly washed.
  • Swimming or bathing with contact lenses on.

All images via Pixabay


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