Sleeping With Your Contact Lenses
It’s happened to any contact wearer – accidentally (or maybe even purposely) sleeping through the night while still wearing your contact lenses. Fortunately, a one-night slip-up likely won’t do significant damage to your eyes, but this doesn’t mean wearing contacts while sleeping should turn into a habit.
Some contact lenses are approved for sleeping, often marketed as “extended wear” lenses. However, contacts that are not specifically approved for sleeping may harm the eyes by preventing oxygen from reaching the corneas.
While the body is awake, the corneas naturally obtain oxygen since the eyes are open and directly exposed to air. Even in those that wear contacts, the eyes may still obtain oxygen safely because upon blinking, contacts move slightly across the cornea to create an open pathway for oxygen. While the body is asleep, oxygen is not directly exposed to the eyes since they are closed. The body’s alternative is to produce tears as a natural lubricator and to release oxygen through capillaries, sustaining the eyes just enough. Closed eyes already work harder to obtain oxygen, and the extra barrier created by contacts only causes more of a strain. Not only is the slight movement of contact lenses restricted during sleep due to a lack of blinking, but also, contacts block the capillaries’ release of oxygen to the corneas.
The itchy, dry, and simply uncomfortable feeling after sleeping with contact lenses is a direct result of hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, in the corneas. In extreme cases, sleeping with contacts has resulted in loss of visual acuity or even blindness. Eye care experts advise patients to avoid sleeping with contacts unless previously approved, but in the
event that it happens, glasses should be worn the next day to replenish oxygen as best as possible. In addition, if the contact lenses are already old or unusually dried out after sleeping, it’s best to begin with a fresh pair the next day.
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