Contact lenses can be so comfortable, wearers can forget to, or choose not to remove them before falling asleep -- or prior to taking a nap. Unfortunately, sleeping with contact lenses in place can cause eye dryness and irritation, and may increase the risk of eye infection and eye damage. So whether or not to nap while wearing your contact lenses is a discussion you should have with your eye doctor. Although the Food and Drug Administration has approved certain types of contact lenses for extended wear -- including wear during sleep -- it’s necessary to follow the use recommendations for your specific lenses, in order to protect your eyes.
If you want to nap or sleep while wearing your contacts, select lenses that are made for extended wear. Contact lenses are made of either soft, flexible plastic or a more rigid, durable material. Ideally, all lenses allow the eyes to breathe, although some lens materials are more effective at allowing enough oxygen to permeate through to the cornea, in order to maintain eye health. Lenses may be long-lasting or disposable, and may be designed for daily wear or extended use -- which means you may be able to sleep with them in. Before getting a prescription for contact lenses, discuss your lifestyle and preferences with your optometrist to ensure the most appropriate type is ordered for your eyes.
Follow use instructions for your contacts. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), there is a higher risk of corneal keratitis, or inflammation of the clear tissue on the front of the eye, among those who wear contact lenses overnight. Keratitis may be caused by infection or injury, and both can be linked to wearing contact lenses too long. According to AAO, all lens types pose an increased infection risk if worn overnight. However, the specific risk of wearing contact lenses during short naps is not known. Recommendations for safe use include to not sleep or nap in contacts designed for daily wear. Also, if you use extended-wear contacts, and your doctor approves sleeping with these in place, be sure take a break, and sleep without your contacts in your eyes once a week or according to the frequency recommended for your lens type.
Clean and replace your lenses according to product and optometrist instructions, to reduce the risk of eye injury and infection. Carefully clean your lenses as directed, using the recommended cleaning and storage solution. Rubbing your lenses when cleaning is a step that should not be missed. Don’t use tap water to clean or store your lenses, and change your case every 3 months. Depending on the type of contacts you wear, this might mean replacing soft lenses daily, weekly, monthly -- or for hard contact lenses, every 1 to 2 years.
Depending on your eye health and comfort level with wearing lenses, another options is to avoid napping with your contacts in your eyes. In addition to the eye infection risk, sleeping with your contacts in place limits the amount of oxygen and lubrication, or tears, that come in contact with your eyes. If your eyes become dry and irritated after sleeping while wearing your contacts, the best solution may be to take them out before you nap, or before you sleep at night. Wash your hands before removing them, and ensure you are placing clean lenses in a clean case with fresh storage solution.
If you like to take naps during the day, and prefer to keep your contacts in, talk to your doctor to ensure you are using the best type of lenses for your eyes, and understand proper care, cleaning and storage practices. See your eye doctor regularly to monitor the health of your eyes. Talk to your eye doctor about persistent redness, irritation, blurred vision or lens discomfort. Corneal keratitis can lead to serious eye injury or vision loss, so don’t ignore these eye symptoms. Early diagnosis and management of keratitis is important to reduce the risk of eye damage and vision loss.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
- American Optometric Association: Contact Lenses
- American Academy of Ophthalmology: Extended Wear of Contact Lenses - 2013
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Types of Contact Lenses
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report: Contact Lens Wearer Demographics and Risk Behaviors for Contact Lens-Related Eye Infections — United States, 2014
Jennifer Byrne is a freelance writer and editor specializing in topics related to health care, fitness, science and more. She attended Rutgers University. Her writing has been published by KidsHealth.org, DietBlogTalk.com, Primary Care Optometry News, and EyeWorld Magazine. She was awarded the Gold Award from the American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (ASHPE), 2007, and the Apex Award for Publication Excellence.