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Contact lenses: Why can’t I sleep in my contacts?

Patients ask me all the time: “My coworker sleeps in his contacts, but he has the kind you can sleep in. I want those — I saw them advertised on tv.”

Wearing contact lenses (even the brands with the latest oxygen-permeable technology) restricts the flow of oxygen to certain parts of the eye, which can cause permanent, irreversible damage to the eyes over long periods of time. The FDA has approved limited sleeping in certain contacts for certain types of patients, because those contacts pass more oxygen through to the cornea than ordinary contacts lenses, so the eyes are able to “breathe” better.

However, there is another risk that occurs with the overwear of contacts: Infections or ulcers, a type of “bedsore” that forms on the eye overnight or sometimes even during the day with contact lens overwear. Most ulcers leave an opaque scar, which can permanently impair vision. It is recommended (even for healthy people without any problems with their eyes or contacts) that contact lenses be removed at least 3 waking hours before bedtime to reduce the risk of damage to the eyes; some patients must limit their contact lens use even more than this. Contacts should never be worn while sleeping.

To be clear: It is our opinion that it is NEVER safe to sleep in contact lenses, no matter what kind.

But, no one is perfect! Even I have awoken wearing my contact lenses. We strive to keep ourselves safe, and knowing the facts about why contacts should not be worn for sleeping is a great motivator. If we know the facts, then we can make better decisions for ourselves. If you have slept in contacts and wake up with pain, redness or light sensitivity, remove the contacts immediately and call our office at 713-520-6600. Pain is a sign that tissue damage is occurring. We are here to help you, not scold you. The faster you tackle the problem, the better the chance you will see clearly after you recover.