Even if your contact lenses claim to be safe to sleep in, most experts say you shouldn’t: You run the risk of contracting all kinds of potentially blinding infections by doing so, as your eyeball is essentially trapped under a little tarp that’s been collecting dust all day. Your eyeballs also do freaky things while you sleep: During the REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, stage of sleep, your eyes do indeed rapidly move around.
But does that little dust tarp hinder your eyeballs’ ability to tweak out while you sleep, thus stopping you from receiving the restorative rest you need?
According to clinical sleep educator Terry Cralle, not exactly. But also, kind of!
“Of course, any eye problem will interfere with quality sleep,” says Cralle. “Wearing contacts (not just sleeping in them) may lead to dry eyes for some — which, according to some research, may negatively affect sleep quality.” It’s even possible for our contact lenses to dry our eyes to the point of such irritation that it actively disrupts our sleep. “I’ve fallen asleep in my contacts, but more times than not, I’ve woken up in the night to take them out because I find them irritating — so they must have disturbed my sleep, and I even have extended wear [lenses],” says Cralle.
Since, as you’re no doubt aware, sleeping in your contacts could lead to all kinds of infections and abrasions — according to the Centers for Disease Control, it increases your risk for infection by six to eight times — that’s obviously going to end up impacting your sleep, too. “I think I’d have a hard time sleeping knowing the risks,” says Cralle.
As for what these risks are, sleeping with contacts has been linked to hypoxia of the eye, or loss of oxygen leading to the growth of new blood vessels, parasites and corneal ulcers, all of which have the potential to cause blindness. There are plenty of more outlandish horror stories out there too, including ones of people living with amoebas flourishing in their eyeballs, causing a cloudy, oozy mess for months as the result of keeping their lenses in. “Bottom line: Don’t sleep with contacts in, and get sufficient sleep every night,” says Cralle.
Basically, contacts won’t physically prevent your eyes from doing their thang while you sleep, but they could let a whole bunch of nasty bacteria do their thang on your eyes while you sleep, resulting in a painful infection that keeps you awake for the next who-knows-how-many nights.
And if the pain isn’t enough to cause sleep to elude you, the embarrassment from getting an eye infection because you slept in your contacts should.