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Why you shouldn’t sleep in your contacts

woman in bed rubbing eyes wearing sleep mask

How bad is it to sleep in your contact lenses?

Accidentally falling asleep in your contact lenses won’t necessarily cause problems, but sleeping with your lenses in over longer periods can lead to infections, corneal ulcers and even blindness. 

What if your contact lenses are technically OK to sleep in? Most eye doctors recommend that sleeping in your contacts shouldn’t become a habit. 

Even the FDA warns: “Do not wear contact lenses overnight unless your eye care provider has prescribed them to be worn that way.” Why? “Any lenses worn overnight increase your risk of infection,” the FDA’s “Focusing on Contact Lens Safety” consumer update says.

And how big of a risk is it to sleep in your contacts? Frequently sleeping with contacts in your eyes makes you six to eight times more likely to get an eye infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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What happens if you sleep in your contacts?

Sleeping in your contact lenses is never a good idea. At best, you’ll likely experience some dryness, and your lenses may appear to be “stuck” to your eyes. At worst, you could lose your sight in an eye.

Routinely sleeping in your contacts also could lead to a range of serious vision issues, including fungal keratitis and acanthamoeba keratitis, a parasitic infection.

And infection isn’t the only thing to worry about if you often sleep in your contacts. “Today Show” anchor Craig Melvin developed a painful corneal ulcer from his habit of sleeping in his contacts.

How does sleeping in contacts lead to a corneal ulcer? According to the FDA, “Wearing contact lenses overnight can stress the cornea by reducing the amount of oxygen to the eye.” 

Contact lenses “can also cause microscopic damage to the surface of the cornea, making it more susceptible to infection.”

Why does sleeping in contacts increase the risk of infection?

Your corneas need hydration and oxygen to stay healthy. Blinking keeps your eyes moist, and oxygen flows into your eyes through the tears you produce.

Since contacts fit over the surface of your eye, they already restrict the amount of oxygen and moisture your eyes receive.

When you sleep in your contacts you further restrict that oxygen and hydration. That makes it more difficult for your cornea to fight off bacteria effectively and your eyes more susceptible to infection. 

What are signs of an eye infection? If you have blurred vision, discharge from your eye, redness or watering, visit your eye doctor immediately. Eye infections left untreated can lead to corneal damage, surgery or even loss of vision in extreme cases.

Other ways to cut your risk of developing an eye infection? Avoid swimming, showering or spending time in hot tubs while wearing your contact lenses to avoid infections caused by water-borne bacteria.

Also, make sure you replace disposable contact lenses and cases frequently.

SEE RELATED: Contact lenses: A guide for first-time users

Can sleeping with contacts cause pink eye?

The most common problem you may experience if you sleep in your contact lenses is conjunctivitis (commonly known as pink eye). A bacterial conjunctivitis eye infection causes redness and produces a thick eye discharge or pus that affects one or both eyes. 

The bacterial form of conjunctivitis (there are other forms of pink eye) usually is easily treated with antibiotic drops from your eye doctor, although you won’t be able to wear contacts until the infection clears. 

READ NEXT: “Can I sleep in my contacts?” and other common contact lens questions

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