Eye Spy Trouble: A Guide to Sleeping With Contacts In

Key Points

  • As a general rule of thumb, take your contact lenses out before you go to bed so that you do not sleep with contacts in.

  • Sleeping with contacts in drastically increases the risk of developing an eye infection.

  • Water and contact lenses are not a good combination because water damages the contact material.

Many contact wearers out there probably know to never sleep with contacts in. If you have fallen asleep with your contacts in, you might have shot awake in a state of panic upon the realization that you have dry, sticky eyes with the lenses still in. If you don't know, contact lenses are essentially replacement glasses made of soft plastic that sit on the eye's surface.

You might prefer contacts to glasses because they change how you see without changing how you look. However, contact lenses bring forth a unique set of problems because they sit directly in your eyes instead of just in front of your eyes. Sleeping with contacts in is typically a problem because it greatly increases your risk of developing an eye infection.

What Do the Doctors Say?

Healthcare professionals agree that sleeping with contact lenses is almost always a bad idea.

Sleeping with contacts for a short time jeopardizes your eye health. Now, falling asleep for 20-30 minutes with your lenses in isn't going to kill you, but every time you fall asleep in contact lenses, you are putting yourself at a higher risk for infection. If you accidentally take a short nap with your contacts in, you'll probably be okay — just rinse out your eyes with contact lens solution or artificial tears when you wake up as a precaution.

Generally speaking, the consensus is not to sleep in your contact lenses if you can avoid it.

Rubbing eyes in bed

Risks of Sleeping With Contacts In

Before you panic and think back to all the times you accidentally took a nap with your lenses in, rest assured that around one-third of contact lens wearers have fallen asleep with their contacts in at some point or another. However, if you sleep with contacts in multiple times a week or even multiple times a month, you might want to be more careful.

Eye Infections and Injuries

According to Sleep Foundation's Danielle Pacheco, "sleeping with your contacts in makes the risk of an eye infection six to eight times higher." When you sleep in contacts, you reduce oxygen flow to your eyes pretty drastically, especially because your eyes naturally swell a bit. Any debris on your contact lens or eye gets trapped, causing irritation or worse.

A few different infections can arise from sleeping in contact lenses, but sometimes even more severe issues result, like vision loss or fungal infections.


Keratitis involves the inflammation of the cornea, which is the covering of the eye.

Patients may experience eye pain, redness, eye discharge, and sensitivity to light. Keratitis, especially Bacterial Keratitis, can result from sleeping in contacts, more so if the contacts have been in your eyes all day. The friction from the contact lens on the surface of the cornea is the culprit here, and avoiding contact lenses for a little bit — of course, after seeing an ophthalmologist — is your best course of action.

Irritated eyes while sleeping


Conjunctivitis is colloquially known as the dreaded Pink Eye.

Pink Eye is pretty common but can cause bigger issues in contact lens wearers. Specifically, giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) can result from sleeping with contacts in. GPC involves the irritation of the inside of the eyelid, and has symptoms such as painful or itchy eyes, feeling like something is stuck in your eye, and swollen eyelids. GPC requires immediate attention, as the irritation on the inside of the eyelid can permanently damage the cornea.

Corneal Abrasions

Corneal abrasions come from a lot of things, like sand or dirt getting in the eyes, but sleeping in contact lenses is another cause. Corneal abrasions (or scratches) are painful, and patients report blurry vision, red eyes, and even headaches. Corneal abrasions can get infected and cause serious eye damage if left untreated.

While not exhaustive, this list gives a solid overview of some of the common effects of sleeping with contact lenses and details some of the risks. You might be lucky and never experience any of these ailments, but around one out of every five hundred contact users experience a serious eye infection that can have dire consequences, like blindness.

If you feel yourself dozing off, do your future self a favor and just take the contact lenses out.

Dry Eyes

Wearing contact lenses for long periods (like, the eight or so hours of sleep you hopefully get per night) can cause dry eye. Dry eye, while not a severe problem, is very uncomfortable, and if left untreated it can lead to corneal tissue damage. Eyes naturally produce tears, which serve to keep the eyes moist and flush out any irritants.

Irritated, red eye

Contact lenses, if left in too long, restrict the flow of oxygen to the eyes, preventing tears in the necessary amounts to keep the eyes appropriately moistened. Doctors treat dry eyes with artificial tears, rewetting drops, and even contact lens solutions. However, the best way to treat dry eye is to prevent it. Contact users can do this by taking their contact lenses out after 10-12 hours, avoiding sleeping in contact lenses, and properly cleaning and storing contact lenses. If your eyes feel dry constantly, consider taking a break from your contact lenses for a few days!

Another small change that may help dry eyes is to switch to silk pillowcases. Silk sheets and pillowcases help the body stay moisturized, so they may restore some comfort to chronically dry eyes.

Water Worries

You may have heard that wearing contact lenses in the pool isn't a great idea, which makes sense as there's chlorine, urine, and a whole slew of other things in pool water.

The same goes for the hot tub: There are chemicals and microbes in pool water that you do not want hitching a ride on your contact lens and getting into your eye. However, many contact lens wearers do not know that water is bad for contact lenses. Yes, even shower water is dangerous for contact lens wearers.

What's Wrong With Water?

Water causes contact lenses problems because it causes them to swell and become misshapen.

Putting in contact lenses

That alone can really irritate the eyes, but sometimes when the lenses become misshapen, they can stick to the cornea, causing abrasions and scratches. Additionally, don't store contacts in water. Many contact lens wearers have had an instance where a lens pops out for whatever reason, and it is tempting just to rinse off the lens in the sink and put it back in. Unfortunately, this practice is very dangerous for your eyes.

Water is not germ-free, so any germs that are in the water used to rinse off the contact lenses stick to the lens and enter your eye.

Acanthamoeba Keratitis

The rare but very serious Acanthamoeba Keratitis infection is a huge concern regarding contaminating contact lenses in water.

This infection comes from a little amoeba found in bodies of water. While anyone can get this infection, contact lens wearers are most at risk. Symptoms include pain, redness, vision blurring, and feeling like something is in the eye. If Acanthamoeba Keratitis is not caught early enough, it can cause permanent blindness or vision impairment.

The best way to treat this infection is, of course, prevention. Removing your contact lenses any time your eyes encounter water is safest. If you experience any eye discomfort, it is best to go to your doctor immediately.

What To Do If There's Water in Your Contacts

If you get water in your contact lenses — especially pool, lake, or ocean water — take the contacts out as soon as possible. Once the lenses are out, it is best to rinse your eyes with contact lens solution.

Help! There's No Contact Lens Solution Around!

A contact lens wearer's worst nightmare is not having anywhere to store their contacts overnight.

Do not sleep in your contacts.

If you have absolutely no other option (i.e., you have to drive somewhere the next morning), wet your eyes with lens solution or artificial tears before you go to bed and once you wake up. The next morning, take the old contact lenses out ASAP and take a break from contact lenses for the day (embrace the backup glasses).

Woman putting in eye drops

What if you've already taken the lenses out and there's nowhere to put them? A lot of people's first instinct is to fill up a contact lens case with water and call it a night, but that is very dangerous!

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to take your contacts out (whether it be for sleeping or if they're just bothering you) and there's no contact solution in sight, do not use tap water or shower water. If no contact solution is available, the next best thing would be some other kind of eye drops (like artificial tears). If those aren't available either, a saline nasal spray is your next best option.

Stay away from water and do your best to avoid sleeping in old contact lenses.

Don't Keep in Contact

Sleeping with contact lenses is a bad idea almost one hundred percent of the time. This practice can irritate the eyes and even lead to eye infections, some of which have permanent consequences. Do your best never to sleep with contact lenses in. If it is unavoidable, be as safe as possible. Keep your eyes moist before and after sleeping, take the old lenses out as soon as possible, and don't put new ones in for the rest of the day.

It feels like a lot of work, but putting in all this effort keeps your eyes safe, happy, and healthy. For chronic contact lens wearers: It is advisable to take breaks from lenses now and then. Just take one day every month and wear glasses instead of contacts, especially if your eyes feel very dry or irritated. Taking good care of your eyes is the best way to prevent future problems.

Woman rubbing eyes

Try to avoid wearing contact lenses in bodies of water. A lot of nasty things lurk in still bodies of water that you do not want to make a home in your eyes. If you swim somewhere with your contact lenses, take them out as soon as possible and rinse your eyes out with some lens solution. Also, do your best to shower without contact lenses in your eyes. It seems like a trivial step and feels quite unlikely that shower water harms your eyes, but again, better safe than sorry.

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