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If you’re a regular contact lens wearer, there’s no doubt that you’ve received the stern warning from your optometrist about not wearing contact lenses to bed. Yet, much like many of the things we say we won’t do, like eat a donut two days into a new diet or swim on a full stomach, we all have moments where convenience outweighs all else.
There is hope! Extended wear contact lenses are generally suitable to sleep in for a certain amount of time, usually up to 30 days, although it’s important to consult your optometrist first as not all eye conditions are suitable for extended wear contact lenses.
Unfortunately wearing standard contact lenses to bed is a really bad idea.
The answer is simple – your eyes require a certain amount of oxygen per day. While most modern contact lenses are specially designed to be semi-permeable, meaning they allow a certain level of oxygen to reach the eye, unfortunately even the most porous contact lenses only allow a limited flow of oxygen to the cornea.
The difference between wearing contact lenses during the day is that your eyes are active and will naturally blink and produce tears, which protects them from any unwanted particles and washes away bacteria. However, when you’re sleeping your eyes aren’t able to defend themselves and they are much more likely to become a breeding ground for bacteria and if you’re wearing contact lenses, the bacteria is trapped.
When your contact lenses aren’t adequately cleaned with contact lens solution, they are more likely to accumulate debris and bacteria, which will inevitably lead to a nasty eye infection or disease, if left unattended for too long.
By restricting the amount of oxygen reaching the cornea and failing to clean your contact lenses thoroughly, it can result in an array of health conditions and infections, which can pose a number of long term health threats, including blindness.
The most notable infection is called ‘keratitis’, which is the inflammation of the cornea. While keratitis is generally uncomfortable and extremely painful, the primary concern is the severe and long-term damage this can cause to the cornea. Not to mention, keratitis has also been linked to ulcers and cancer as well.
According to the Association of Optometric Contact Lens Educators, keratitis is 80 times higher among contact lens wearers than non-wearers, and highest among those who use extended-wear lenses [i].
While keratitis is generally the most serious condition caused by sleeping with contact lenses, let's not forget about the high susceptibility to bacterial infections of the eyes and scraping your eyes while sleeping.
While bacterial infection speaks for itself, you may be wondering how sleeping with contact lenses can scrape your eyes.
When you’re sleeping with contact lenses, objects can get trapped under the lenses, causing significant and irreparable damage to the cornea. Keeping your eyes shut over contact lenses with debris underneath them can make the damage more severe.
Although some modern contact lenses are designed to wear for extended periods of time, all contact lenses, regardless of their durability and quality are supposed to be regularly cleaned. How long are you wearing your contact lenses for?
Frequent or planned replacement contact lenses are designed to last anywhere between two weeks to six months, however they must be taken out and thoroughly cleaned on a daily basis prior to falling asleep. Daily disposable contact lenses will last a day, and are disposed of at the end of the day.
It is extremely important to adhere to the replacement schedule and wearing times recommended by your optometrist, to ensure the quality of your vision and health of your eyes. If you experience blurred vision, discomfort or redness, you should seek immediate medical attention and discontinue using your contact lenses.
[i] Association of Optometric Contact Lens Educators 2011, Infectious Keratitis. Available from < http://www.aocle.org/livingL/infectious_keratitis.html>. [24 March 2015]