What Happens if You Sleep With Contacts

Sleeping in contacts could lead to some pretty bad complications.

Are you wondering what happens if you sleep in contact lenses? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has the answer: It could give you an infection (or worse).

About one-third of 45 million contact lens wearers in the United States sleep in their contacts. But sleeping in your contacts can raise your risk of infection six- to eight-fold. 

That information came from a 2018 report published by the CDC, detailing grisly outcomes in six people who wore their contacts to sleep and practiced other bad contact habits. Although rare, some complications of wearing contacts while sleeping include:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Perforated corneal ulcer
  • Microbial keratitis (especially if you swim in contacts)
  • Vision impairment
  • Permanent eye damage
  • Vision loss
  • Corneal transplant

"If you're sleeping in your contact lenses, you need to stop," Angela Bevels, OD, clinical director of Elite Dry Eye Spa in Tucson, Ariz., told Health. "Taking care of them requires you to take them out."

Here's what you need to know about what happens if you sleep with contacts and how to care for your contacts properly.

Why It's Bad To Sleep in Contacts

Complications from wearing contacts while sleeping can happen to anyone who accidentally goes to bed without taking out their contacts. Some evidence suggests that one in every 500 contact lens wearers will experience an eye infection in any given year.

Contact lenses collect all kinds of germs and debris during the day. If you sleep in them, there's more chance of an infection.

"The debris from the contact lens and the lid margins builds up, and the contact becomes toxic, and that's what causes infection," explained Dr. Bevels.

Rapid eye movement during sleep can make things even worse, Samuel D. Pierce, OD, an optometrist based in Alabama and former president of the American Optometric Association (AOA), told Health.

Plus, wearing contacts while sleeping means your eyes aren't getting enough oxygen, even if you're using extended-wear lenses. Those lenses are more porous than standard contacts but still block oxygen and capture debris.

"Any time you choose to sleep in a contact lens, whether it's approved for continuous or extended wear, you put yourself at greater risk for a contact-lens-related complication," noted Dr. Pierce. "Just because the material is porous enough to allow enough oxygen doesn't mean that [sleeping in them] is the best thing to do. You have no idea what that contact lens has come into contact with, which would be spending the night in your eye."

How To Handle Contacts Safely

Of course, not everyone who sleeps in their contacts will have a complication. Still, everyone who wears contact lenses can follow specific protocols to ensure that never happens.

First, make sure you see your optometrist once per year or every two years, depending on your situation. Contact lens prescriptions are usually only valid for a year and require a special eye exam.

The AOA recommends a comprehensive eye exam every two years for everyone aged 18–64 with a low risk of eye conditions and without contacts. In contrast, the AOA recommends annual exams for everyone with a high risk of eye conditions, glasses, or contacts. Additionally, those 65 and older need an eye exam yearly.

Other dos and don'ts of wearing contacts include the following:

  • Don't swim in contacts.
  • Don't disinfect or rinse contacts in tap water.
  • Don't top off the case, which adds a new solution to an old one. It's probably dirty, and the solution loses potency over time, noted Dr. Pierce.
  • Dump any remaining solution out of your contact lens case and caps before adding fresh solution. Then, put your contact lenses in and close the case.
  • Wash your hands before putting your lenses on in the morning.
  • Let your case and caps air dry during the day.
  • Regularly clean your case and caps with water and soap to eliminate lingering bacteria.
  • Replace your case every three months.
  • Replace disposable lenses as often as recommended.

When To See a Healthcare Provider

If you've been sleeping in your contacts for a night (or three), it's probably no big deal if you stop now. But it's important to see a healthcare provider right away if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • Eye pain
  • Draining or eye redness
  • Double vision
  • Decreased vision
  • Halos, or circles, around light
  • Flashes of light
  • Floaters (specks that seem to float in front of your eyes)

A Quick Review

Sleeping in your contacts is generally bad, even if they're labeled extended wear. Dirt, debris, and contaminants can stick to your lenses and infect your eyes while you sleep. 

Changing and sanitizing your lenses daily, and practicing other good contact hygiene practices, can help you avoid infections and serious complications like permanent eye damage and vision loss.

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6 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cope JR, Konne NM, Jacobs DS, et al. Corneal Infections Associated with Sleeping in Contact Lenses - Six Cases, United States, 2016-2018MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67(32):877-881. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6732a2

  2. American Optometric Association. Healthy vision and contact lenses.

  3. American Optometric Association. Comprehensive eye exams.

  4. American Optometric Association. Contact lens care.

  5. Konne NM, Collier SA, Spangler J, Cope JR. Healthy Contact Lens Behaviors Communicated by Eye Care Providers and Recalled by Patients - United States, 2018 [published correction appears in MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019 Sep 20;68(37):809]. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(32):693-697. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6832a2

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keep an eye on your vision health.

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