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

woman sleeping in her contact lenses

As a first-time contact lens wearer, everything from mastering the art of not poking your eye to choosing which type of lens to buy can be overwhelming.

As an old pro, wearing and caring for contact lenses might be tasks that you’ve put on autopilot, just like brushing your teeth. It’s not until you realize that you’re out of solution or that your vision has suddenly gotten blurry that you even think about them. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a newcomer to the contact world or if you’re a long-time resident. At some point, you will most likely have a question or two about wearing your contacts. 

Here are some common questions about contact lenses, from “How do I put in my contacts?” to “Can I store my contacts in water?” to “Why do my contacts get blurry?”

READ MORE frequently asked questions about contacts.

Can I sleep in my contacts? Can I take a nap with my contacts in?

You might have a well-meaning friend who says, “I slept in my contacts for a whole week and I was fine,” but this is one of those moments where it’s much better to follow your doctor’s direction than depend on your friend’s experience. 

Unless your contacts have been approved for overnight wear, wearing contacts to sleep — especially if you do it frequently — can be very problematic.

When you wake up after sleeping in contacts, you will most likely notice some dryness or feel like your contact is stuck to your eye. But the problems can go far past a little discomfort. 

Sleeping with contacts can put stress on your cornea, limiting how much oxygen gets to your eye. Eventually, this can lead to open sores (ulcers) on your cornea. These ulcers can permanently and severely damage your vision. Untreated, they can even lead to blindness. 

Additionally, sleeping in contacts can lead to:

  • Conjunctivitis – Inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva (the lining that covers the white portion of your eyeball and inside your eyelids) that causes itchiness and redness. 

  • Contact lens acute red eye (CLARE) – A serious type of red eye that comes with pain and light sensitivity.

  • Corneal neovascularization – An overgrowth of new blood vessels in your cornea, which triggers swelling — and can damage your eyes so much that you will never be able to be fitted for contacts again.

The more often you sleep in your contacts and the longer you sleep in them, the more likely you may be to have these complications. But just wearing them to sleep once — and even for a quick catnap — can also be dangerous. 

The National Sleep Foundation reports that sleeping in contacts once in a while makes you seven times more likely to get an inflamed cornea. According to the AAO, sleeping in contacts makes you six to eight times more likely to get an eye infection — and the risk is the same even if you only sleep in them every now and then.

READ MORE: Why you shouldn’t sleep in your contacts

Can I wear extended-wear contacts overnight?

Extended-wear contacts are lenses that are designed to be worn overnight or for continuous wear (ranging anywhere from one to six nights or up to 30 days). They are usually soft lenses, but there are also a few types of hard lenses designed for extended wear. 

Even though they’re safe for overnight use when worn and cared for correctly, it’s a good idea not to wear them while you snooze — at least not every night. Sleeping in any lenses increases your risk for infection. 

Keep in mind that all contact lenses are considered “medical devices” by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). There are three classes of medical devices. Most devices fall into Classes I and II.

  1. Class I devices, like elastic bandages, pose the least risk for harm.

  2. Class II devices, like powered wheelchairs, have a medium risk.

  3. Class III devices, like implantable pacemakers, have the highest potential risk of illness or injury. Only 10% of medical devices are in Class III.

Daily wear lenses are Class II devices. But contacts designed for overnight use are Class III, meaning they are riskier to use. To minimize your risk of infection and eye problems, be sure to follow all care and wear instructions from your eye doctor and the lens manufacturer closely.

How do I put in my contacts?

Putting in contacts is simple, but it does require following a step-by-step process. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) outlines seven steps for proper contact placement:

  1. Wash your hands, but do not use any soaps that have added fragrances or oils, since these can stick to the surface of the lens. Also, be sure to thoroughly dry your hands — water often contains germs that can contaminate lenses.

  2. If you’re having trouble getting your contact out of the container, gently shake the case and carefully slide the lens onto your hand. Make sure that you only shake the case over your hand so that the lens doesn’t fall onto another surface. If it does fall, do not clean off the lens — use a new one. Only use your fingertips, rather than your nails, to handle the lens. 

  3. Rinse the lens off with contact lens solution. Do not use tap water or eye drops.

  4. Place your lens on the tip of your middle or index (pointer) finger on your dominant hand (the one you write with). Before you put it in, inspect it closely for any signs of damage, tears or dirt. Also, double-check that the lens isn’t inside out. It should form a bowl shape with the edges turned up. If it resembles a lid, with the edges turned out, you need to reverse it. 

  5. This step should be done in front of a mirror. With your other (non-dominant) hand, hold your upper eyelid open. Then, using the middle or ring finger of your dominant hand that is not holding the contact, hold down your lower eyelid. You could also use your fingers and thumb of your non-dominant hand to open both your upper and lower eyelids very wide.

  6. As you look either up toward the ceiling or in front of you, put your lens on your eye.

  7. Finally, slowly close your eyes and roll them in a full circle. This helps the lens “stick,” or settle in place. If that doesn’t work, you could also gently massage your closed eyelid. When you open your eyes, blink a few times and check the mirror to make sure that the lens is centered. 

Try not to get frustrated if it takes you a few tries. Putting something into your eye can be a strange sensation at first and can even provoke some anxiety (especially if you have a fear of touching your eye). It might just take some getting used to before you can easily pop them in.

When you’re done, empty out your case, rinse it with fresh solution and leave it out to air dry. 

How do I take out my contacts?

Follow these steps to remove your contacts:

  1. Wash and dry your hands.

  2. Look in the mirror and make sure that your lens hasn’t slipped — you should be able to see and feel it on your eye. 

  3. Look upward, and, using just your fingertip, pull the lens down to the lower half of your eye. 

  4. Grasp the lens between your forefinger and thumb, and gently lift it off.

The process doesn’t end when you get your contacts out, though. In order to keep your contacts clean and avoid getting an infection or irritation in the future, you need to store your lenses correctly. 

Always put your lenses into fresh solution and let them soak for the amount of time indicated on the packaging, which is typically around four to eight hours. 

READ MORE: Contact lenses: A guide for first-time users

I can’t get my contacts out. What do I do?

The first thing to do is make sure your contact is actually still in your eye. It’s possible that the contact fell out, and you don’t want to be reaching in and poking your bare eye.

If it’s still in, and it appears to be centered on your cornea, it’s probably just dried out. Use sterile saline, multipurpose contact lens solution or lens rewetting drops to rinse your contact and eye for a few seconds. Close your eye and carefully massage your upper lid until the lens starts to move. Be patient — you may need to repeat the rinsing several times, and it can take up to 10 minutes to fully rehydrate the lens enough to move it.

Once it feels like it’s back to normal, take the contact out as usual. 

READ MORE: How to remove a contact lens that's stuck in your eye

I can’t find my contacts to remove them. Are they stuck behind my eyes?

So you’re asking “Where are my contacts?” You know they didn’t fall out. Could contacts get lost behind your eyes? Is that even possible? 

It’s not a fun feeling to have “lost” your contacts within your eyes, but don’t panic. It’s physically impossible for contacts to go behind your eyes. The farthest they can go is the crease in the conjunctiva where it connects from the back of the eyelid to the eyeball.

While contacts can’t get all the way behind the eye, they can still get stuck in the upper eyelid. If that happens, it can feel like something is caught in your eye.

In order to get the lens out, follow these steps:

  1. Wash and dry your hands.

  2. Relax your eyelid and try to feel your contact. If your contact has gotten pretty far up in your eyelid, there are a few ways to bring it forward:

  3. Rinse with some artificial tears or sterile saline. 

  4. Look downward, as far as you can.

  5. Gently massage the contact through your eyelid.

  6. Flip or lift your eyelid. 

  7. Once you can see an edge of the contact peeking out from under your eyelid, use your finger to gently slide it back down to its normal position, then take it out as usual.

  8. If you still can’t get it out, call your eye doctor right away. 

Your eye might feel a bit irritated or dry after you get your contact out, but that should go away quickly with some sterile saline or artificial tears. If irritation does not go away, make an appointment with your eye doctor as soon as possible. You could have a scratched cornea (corneal abrasion) — a complication that can cause infections and ulcers. 

Can I put my contacts in water? 

Sometimes you run out of solution, or you don’t remember to take it with you on an overnight stay. Plain water is not the answer. Unfortunately, there is no safe way to store your contacts besides using contact lens solution. 

The organisms in water can cause eye infections, such as Acanthamoeba keratitis. Acanthamoeba keratitis is an infection that causes pain and difficulty seeing and can potentially lead to complications like ulcers on your cornea — the surface on the front of your eye that allows light to pass through into the eye.

If you have soft lenses, water can make your lenses change shape, swell and get stuck on your eye. Besides being uncomfortable, this can scratch your cornea — and scratches allow germs to easily pass through and cause infection. 

If you’re out of solution, throw away your current pair and use a new pair next time. 

Why are my contacts blurry?

There are several possible explanations for having blurry vision while wearing contacts. 

  • Overuse – If you wear lenses for longer than your doctor prescribed — especially disposable lenses — proteins and debris can build up on your lenses. This debris could be the culprit behind your blurry vision (and could also increase your risk of getting an eye infection). 

  • Time for a new prescription – It’s normal for eyesight to change over time, and you might simply be wearing contacts that no longer correct your vision problems. 

  • Dirt – Blurry vision might be a reminder to make sure you’re cleaning your contacts regularly and according to the doctor’s and manufacturer’s instructions.

  • Infection – If your blurry vision is accompanied by light sensitivity, eye pain, eye redness, excessive tearing or a feeling like something is caught in your eye, you may have an infection like Acanthamoeba keratitis.

I lost my contacts. If I find my old contacts, can I just wear those?

Possibly, but there are a few things you need to look at before you pop them in. 

If you wear soft lenses, you need to consider the expiration date. Most soft contact lenses expire about four years from the day they are manufactured. (You can find the expiration date on the package.)

Soft lenses are sealed in airtight containers, but the seals on the containers can erode. This can potentially contaminate both the lens and the saline solution inside. And if that contamination gets into your eyes, it can lead to infection.

If your contacts have not passed their expiration date, there are still a few important things to consider:

  • Is the seal intact? Even a pair you got a couple of months ago can already have a broken seal, which means the lens and saline solution in the package could be contaminated.

  • Has my prescription changed since then? It’s recommended that all adults ages 18 to 60 have comprehensive eye exams every two years and that adults over age 60 have them annually. (If you are considered “at risk,” you might need even more frequent exams.) If your doctor changed your prescription last year, a pair from three years ago might not do you much good.

So if you have old lenses sitting around that are going to be expiring soon — and losing things is your M.O. — you might want to make sure you always have an extra pair or two at the ready. 

However, if you wear rigid gas permeable contacts (hard contacts), you’re in luck. Hard lenses are usually shipped dry, so there’s no risk of them becoming contaminated, and they generally don’t need expiration dates.

It’s time to replace my contacts. Can I order a different brand of contacts than my prescription?

A prescription for contacts is like a prescription for medication — it has to be followed as written. You can’t switch to a new brand without your prescriber’s approval. 

However, there’s one exception: If the exact lenses on your prescription are also sold under a different name (also referred to as “private label” or “store brand”), you can switch to that version of the lenses. There’s no need for a new prescription.

As you continue to wear contacts, chances are that more questions will come up. If you can’t reach your eye doctor, and you turn to Dr. Google, make sure that you look at reputable sites like the American Optometric Association or the National Eye Institute

If you’ve been considering contacts but haven’t decided for sure that they’re right for you, make an appointment with your eye doctor. They will give you a contact lens eye exam, which will include special tests not normally included in standard eye exams. The doctor will talk to you about your options, and — if they determine you’re a good candidate for contacts — will write you a contact lens prescription.

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