Approximately 45 million people in the United States wear contact lenses and despite experts generally advising people to take out their lenses before sleeping, a CDC report found that roughly one third of contact lens wearers sleep or nap while wearing them. But imagine this: it's a rainy, cloudy Sunday afternoon. You have no plans or chores to do. The only thing you have to worry about is how you want to spend your day. If you're a nap lover like me, this kind of day makes you sleepy, prompting you to drift off. Sometimes it's simply too hard to resist curling up for a good nap. But if you wear contact lenses, you've probably wondered how safe or dangerous it is to nap with them in. We spoke with three experts to get their take on sleeping with contact lenses.
Can I Nap In My Contact Lenses?
In one word, no. Although it may be convenient, sleeping in contact lenses is rarely recommended from a medical standpoint, Margaret Liu, MD, ophthalmologist, surgeon, and Founder of the SF Eye Institute within the Pacific Vision Foundation, told POPSUGAR. This is because contact lenses invariably decrease oxygenation of the eye, promote debris build up, and allow bacteria and parasites to access the cornea. In fact, sleeping in contact lenses increases your chance of getting an eye infection by six to eight times, which can result in pain and vision loss, she said. Vision loss can be permanent or require surgical intervention because of scarring of the cornea. Dr. Liu further explained that sleeping in contact lenses can cause inflammation, which may cause persistent discomfort, such as burning, tearing, or foreign body sensation when wearing them.
You can also develop a corneal ulcer (an open sore of the cornea) or corneal abrasion (a scratch on the cornea), said Ora Esfahani, OD, Director of Optometric Services at the Southern California Eye Institute at CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Centre.
Lastly, sleeping in contact lenses can cause them to get stuck underneath your eyelid, Dr. Esfahani said, adding that such an occurrence can be uncomfortable and may require removal by a doctor.
Is There Any Difference Between Sleeping For a Short vs Long Nap?
In general, Dr. Liu said, the more time spent sleeping in contact lenses, the greater the risk that someone will develop symptoms of infection or inflammation and suffer from the more severe consequences.
That said, napping for a short (20-minute) amount of time with your contact lens in isn't the end of the world, Dr. Esfahani added. If you're asleep for one or more hours, then your contact lenses can dry up in your eye. This can cause discomfort or even scratch your eye when you open them. And, depending on the material of your contact lens, your cornea may not receive adequate oxygen and hydration while sleeping, causing irritation and possibly an infection, Dr. Esfahani said. With shorter naps, these issues are less likely to occur. But of course, it still can happen, which is important to remember, she added.
Is There Any Difference If I Sleep With Daily or Monthly Contacts?
It's not advisable that you sleep in daily wear lenses, which include one-day, two-week, monthly, and quarterly disposable lenses, Sujay Kansagra, MD, Director of Duke University's Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and a sleep health expert at Mattress Firm, told POPSUGAR. However, there are some FDA-approved extended wear lenses that are specifically designed for overnight or continuous wear ranging from one to six nights, or up to 30 days.
That said, it's important to note that while all contact lenses pose dangers, daily wear lenses generally overall have less risk of infection than extended wear lenses, Dr. Liu said.
What Should I Do If I Fall Asleep in My Contact Lenses?
Because many contact lens wearers develop contact lens-related dry eye, Dr. Kansagra recommends applying rewetting drops to rehydrate your eyes and contact lens before removal. This is because dry eyes can increase your risk of corneal abrasion.
Afterwards, you should give your eyes a day break from contact lenses so that they have a chance to breathe, Dr. Esfahani added.