Is it safe to sleep with your contact lenses in? We found out

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Life happens – you leave your car lights on and the battery dies, you “accidentally” pop a zit or forget your laundry in the rain. These things happen to everyone, like dozing off while watching another episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

But what’s worse, you could have dozed off with your contacts in. One man did  and lost his sight in one eye. And that got us thinking, how safe is it to sleep with your contact lenses in?

MH chatted to Andre Horn, senior optometrist and managing director of Mellins i-Style, to set the record straight. “Some wearers do this more often than others but it’s not a good idea,” says Horn.


The science is simple

“When you sleep with your contact lenses in, your corneas don’t get enough oxygen as the contact lens, which fits snugly over the surface of the cornea, acts as a barrier between the closed eyelid and the cornea.”

The science is simple, when you’re awake, by blinking your cornea receives oxygen from the air. However, because no blinking is done while asleep, no oxygen is received.

Clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Dr Thomas Steinemann says the lack of oxygen can have some serious effects on the cornea. “Without oxygen, the cornea swells up – not a cartoonish, popping-out-of-your-head amount, but enough so that gaps appear between the eye’s surface cells, where bacteria can sneak in. These bacteria may increase your risk of eye infection by nearly seven-fold.”

According to Greatist, because the eye doesn’t have the body’s same immune system protection, things can turn bad fast. When sleeping, the body restores and rejuvenates itself, and the cornea is lubricated and nourished simultaneously. A process that a contact lens interferes with.

And according to Horn, “Another concern is keratitis, which is inflammation of the cornea. This occurs when contact lenses aren’t removed before bedtime. Even contact lenses that have extended wear should be removed regularly, at least once a week, to lessen the chances of corneal infection.”


How do you know if you have an infection? 

“If you experience decreased vision, redness, watering and discharge, you may have an infection,” says the Cleveland Clinic. “If removing a lens doesn’t help the irritation, it’s time to visit an eye doctor – and don’t forget to bring the problematic lens, too.”


Andre Horn’s bottom line:

“As a rule, you should therefore never sleep with your contact lenses in.”


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