Can You Sleep With Contacts In?

In-Office eye exam

It's been a long day and you think to yourself that you'll get up in a few minutes to remove your contacts. The next thing you know, you've fallen asleep wearing your lenses. Should you be worried about your eye health? Are you at risk for any side effects or contact lens related eye infections? Can you sleep with contacts in? The safest answer is no, according to experts.

Roughly a third of the 45 million contact wearers in the United States admit to sleeping with their contacts in. While this might not seem like a risky choice at the end of a long day, people who sleep with contacts are much more likely to develop contact lens-related eye infections and other complications. That being said, there are certain types of contacts that are designed to be slept in. Ultimately, the most important thing is to listen to your eye doctor at and follow their instructions about when and how long to wear your contacts. The eye care team at EyeCare Associates has put together some information about sleeping with contacts to help you better protect your eyes. Learn more below.

The Risks of Being Asleep with Your Contacts In

While sleeping with contacts may feel low-risk, it increases the risk of eye infections by six to eight times with most contact types. Sleeping in certain types of contact lenses can put you at risk of developing a corneal infection called bacterial keratitis. This infection affects roughly 18 to 20 out of every 10,000 people who sleep in contacts, and nearly 1 million people in the U.S. visit the emergency room each year for keratitis infections.

Sleeping in contact lenses can also put you at risk for a corneal ulcer, which can be a very painful condition that can result in permanent vision loss. If you fall asleep in contacts every now and then, the risk for eye infections is much lower. Consistent sleeping with contacts can increase your chances of ulcers or other conditions. Symptoms of bacterial keratitis or corneal ulcers can include:

  • Eye pain

  • Redness irritation

  • Dry eyes

  • Blurred vision

  • Light sensitivity

  • Excessive tearing or watery eyes

  • Discharge

Sleeping in contacts increases the risk of developing microbial keratitis infections because when you sleep, you don't blink. This limits how much moisture and oxygen gets through the contact lenses to your cornea, causing hypoxia in this delicate tissue. Hypoxia — or a lack of oxygen — can harm the surface of the eye in several ways, including lowering the cornea's ability to fight infections. In severe cases, these infections can even cause permanent vision damage.

Which Contacts Can Be Worn While Asleep?

While the most common types of contacts should not be worn while asleep, there are some contacts that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for overnight wear. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) offers guidance on the different types of contacts and wearing lenses while you sleep in them. Your EyeCare Associates doctor will work with you to determine the best type of contact lens for you.

  • Hard contacts. Also called rigid gas-permeable (RGP), these lenses are made of hard plastic and designed to let more oxygen in to your eye than soft contacts. However, they are not designed to be slept in.

  • Disposable soft contacts. These lenses are soft and meant to be taken out daily. Depending on the type of lens, you may be able to use them for a week or even a month, but some are meant to be thrown out every day. None of these soft lenses should be slept in.

  • Extended wear contact lenses. This is the only type of contact lenses designed to be slept in. You can wear them for several days at once, but you will still need to remove them occasionally — usually once a week — to clean and disinfect them. While these contacts are available, they aren't often recommended by eye doctors because they still carry a high risk of infection.

  • Toric contacts. These are special soft contact lenses designed for people with astigmatism. These lenses come in daily wear or extended wear varieties, though the extended wear options carry the same infection warnings as other extended wear contacts. Only the extended wear variety can be slept in.

  • Colored, decorative and cosmetic contacts. These lenses are used to change the color or appearance of your eye. While these types of contact lenses aren't used for vision correction, they still require a prescription to avoid damage to your eye. Like contact lenses for vision correction, they should not be slept in.

EyeCare Associates also offers a variety of specialty contact lenses that might also be suitable for sleeping in. Your eye doctor can help determine if any of these lenses are a suitable option.


So, can you sleep with contacts?

If you've recently slept with contacts in, it's not time to panic yet — especially if you've only done it once or twice. Sleeping in contacts on a regular basis, though, is a risky habit that puts you in danger of developing serious eye infections or even permanent vision damage.

If you are interested in contact lenses you can sleep in, talk to your eye doctor at Nationwide Vision. Our team will work with you to determine if extended wear contacts are a good fit for you and help you learn how to care for them safely.

If you have fallen asleep with contacts and your eyes become irritated, remove and clean your lenses. Eye drops can also help relieve some irritation in your eye. If your lenses continue to cause discomfort, reach out to Nationwide Vision to ensure there is no severe damage. Find the EyeCare Associates closest to you and schedule a contact lens exam today.