It’s late, you’re tired and you just want to stumble into bed and close your eyes and let the dreams begin. It would just be so convenient if I didn’t have to take out my contact lenses. Generally, if you sleep in your lenses only once in a while there will be little risk of trouble. Indulge me while I describe the risks and then I will present the best options for giving you flexibility in contact lens wearing time.
We wear contact lenses on the cornea. The cornea needs oxygen and fresh tears to stay healthy. A brand new, properly fitting contact lens slightly decreases the oxygen and fresh tears but most eyes can handle it quite easily. While you are awake and blinking the lenses move a little bit to exchange fresh tears under the lens. When you remove your contacts the eye gets the opportunity to recuperate by getting more oxygen and tears.
As you sleep and your eyes are closed, a lens on the eye moves very little and begins to dry out and stick to the cornea. The condition worsens when the lens gets a few weeks older as a microfilm continues to form on the surface and small deposits and bacteria bind to the lens. When you remove and clean (by rubbing with a multipurpose solution) and store your lenses, you’re removing some of these films and disinfecting the bacteria from the lenses. So if you are not removing your lenses nightly, these cornea damaging conditions continue to insult the eye.
Eventually enough damage may occur and you will start becoming symptomatic of contact lens overwear. The lenses become less comfortable, your cornea might start warping and swelling causing blurred vision. The cornea may try to obtain more oxygen by growing new (abnormal) blood vessels into the cornea. More advanced corneal damage causes inflammation and eye infections which are often quite painful. The really unlucky patients end up with permanent damage from scarring to the cornea.
So those are the risks. Everyone’s eyes handle contact lenses differently. Some are lucky and sleep in the contacts without any symptoms while others get an infection after sleeping in their lenses just a couple nights. Let’s talk about the best ways to be able to sleep in your lenses.
The most common way is to wear a silicone hydrogel disposable lens like Biofinity, Ultra or Air Optix Night and Day. Some are FDA approved to be worn 7 days in a row while others are approved for 30 days continuously. To wear these lenses safely on an overnight schedule, the lens must be fit optimally and regular checkups with your optometrist are essential. These lenses are great for people who need to wake and go in a rush such as firefighters.
Another excellent option to consider are daily disposable lenses. These require very little care. Simply wash your hands, remove your lenses and throw them away. In the morning your eyes will wake up refreshed since you didn’t sleep in a lens. Of course, every day you will be wearing perfectly clean lenses that are very light and comfortable to wear.
If you are the type of person who really dislikes the idea of fussing with contact lenses at all, LASIK or PRK refractive surgery might be a good option for you. While you might have to wear reading glasses eventually, you might get many years without needing glasses or contact lenses.
Good doctors are realistic. We know that many patients want and do sleep in their contact lenses. If you already are sleeping in your lenses regularly or want to sleep in your lenses, be sure to discuss it with your doctor at your next exam. Allow him or her to make the best recommendations that not only give your flexibility in lens wear but reduce your risk of causing problems. Some patients may have factors such with their eye health or dry eyes that really contraindicate sleeping in lenses, but you may be surprised what is possible.
To enjoy healthy and comfortable lens wear, I cannot stress enough how important is to follow your doctors recommendations in handling, cleaning, disinfecting and especially replacing your lenses. If you experience the earliest symptoms that seem like something is not right, take out our lenses and make an appointment with your eye doctor to evaluate and fix the problem.
Sleep well and dream clearly.