It’s a common mistake. Most of us are guilty of nodding off while wearing contacts at least once in our life, whether it’s an impromptu nap or that one night you passed out on the couch. But unlike dozing in your eyeglasses, which is harmless, sleeping in contact lenses puts your eyes at risk of some serious problems.
What happens when you sleep in lenses
When you fall asleep with your lenses in, you are exposing your eye to massive amounts of bacteria and debris. Even a brand new pair of contact lenses will still gather germs during the day, many of which will slip around to the underside of the lens where they are trapped against your eye. Single use contacts lower your exposure to bacteria but do not eliminate it. Sleeping with lenses in multiplies the amount of time your eyes are exposed to this bacteria.
Sleeping with contacts also effectively strangles your eyes. The outermost part of your eyeball does not have internal blood flow like other areas of your body, and so instead relies on oxygen from the air. Contact lenses inhibit this oxygen exchange. Combine the effect of the lenses with that of your closed eyelids and you’ve basically cut off all oxygen to the front of your eye.
The biggest risk from snoozing in your contacts is the risk of infections. Many different infections caused by bacteria, amoebas and other germs can take hold in your eyes if you use contact lenses. Sleeping in your lenses makes the risk significantly higher. Eye infections can cause a range of problems from pain and redness to vision loss and even blindness.
Giant papillary conjunctivitis
Another risk is GPC, or giant papillary conjunctivitis. GPC is a kind of allergic reaction that can occur when something irritates the inside of the eyelid. The end result is large bumps under your eyelid that are uncomfortable, unsightly, and can pull your contact lenses in unwanted directions, making them impossible to wear.
So if your eyes become too damaged from sleeping in contact lenses, not only might you suffer vision loss, but you could permanently lose the ability to wear contacts at all. So unless you’re willing to risk being stuck in just your prescription glasses, it’s not worth the risk.
You can buy prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses over the internet to save money and time, but online glasses and contacts do not replace annual eye exams. Seeing your eye doctor regularly for prescription updates and general exams can be your first line of defense against eye problems.