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How To Sleep With Your Eyes Open

Malena Piper

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Based on the title of this post, you’re probably wondering if there are any benefits to sleeping with your eyes open. In a word: no. You really shouldn’t try this just for the sake of it. Some people want to learn to do it to catch a sneaky nap during a long meeting or boring class, but even this can endanger your eye health.

However, some people can’t help but sleep with their eyes open. Strokes, autoimmune disorders, and certain facial injuries can render you unable to close your eyes during sleep, but the most common condition causing people to sleep with their eyes open is nocturnal lagophthalmos.

Nocturnal lagophthalmos is characterized by the inability to completely close your eyelids during sleep. Sleepers with conditions may close their eyes part-way, but most people with nocturnal lagophthalmos find it almost impossible to shut their eyes during sleep.

Of course, we suggest speaking with your doctor about treatment options for nocturnal lagophthalmos, and any other conditions preventing you from closing your eyes during sleep. However, there are steps you can take in the meantime to minimize the harmful side effects of sleeping with your eyes open.

In our post, we talk about how to safely sleep with your eyes open.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation can help prime your body for sleep—eyes open or closed. One great way to calm your mind and body is called progressive relaxation. Focus on one section of your body at a time. Start at the tips of your toes and tense all the muscles in that region as you take a deep breath. Then slowly release the breath and allow those same muscles to relax. After, move on to the ankles, then the calves, and so on, until you’ve tensed each muscle all the way to the top of your head and relaxed it in turn. Doing this can have a calming effect to help you fall asleep.

Eye Masks

If you can’t close your eyes, there are some face masks that can perform the same basic functions as your lids, though granted, not as well. Moisture goggles specifically made for nocturnal lagophthalmos are a good option. These goggles will shelter eyes from dust, airflow, and injury, as well as helping eyes retain moisture throughout the night. Many moisture goggles also come with either deep tint or full opacity, keeping out light as well as dry air.

Daydreaming

To get a clear mind, let your thoughts wander where they will. Don’t try to think about nothing—this often fails and floods your mind with thoughts, leading to anxiety about your inability to think about nothing. Instead, start daydreaming about things you enjoy, like the long bike ride you took over the weekend or your upcoming evening out with friends. Avoid trying to direct your thoughts. If you let your mind do what it wants without supervision, eventually your thoughts will slow on their own.

Eye Focus

Fix your eyes on a single spot in the room and don’t move them. This spot should be still (i.e. free of bright lights, distractions, and loud noises.), which will allow you to stare without having to move your eyes to keep your focus on it. Keep your eyes motionless as you focus on this spot. Eventually, they may start to lose focus as you continue to stare, and if they do, let them. Once your eyes are completely relaxed and out of focus, you can find it easier to fall asleep with them open.

Why You Shouldn’t Sleep with Your Eyes Open

The eyes are a pair of complex, sensitive organs. Unlike most of our other organs, we expose our eyes to external threats and stressors for the majority of our lifetimes. If we didn’t, we couldn’t see!

Eyes need moisture and physical protection from external threats, and eyelids provide both. When you’re awake, your lids wick away dust and spread tears and oils across your eyes. When you sleep, your lids protect your eyes while you’re unconscious of your surroundings and prevent them from drying out.

Sleeping without the moisture retention and protection your eyelids provide can do significant damage to your eyes over the long term. Since eyelids block light, the constant light exposure of open eyes can also disrupt your sleep, which can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, and a host of other problems.

Underlying Conditions Preventing Eye Closure During Sleep

There are a number of reasons, such as certain autoimmune disorders and injuries, that might cause you to unintentionally sleep with your eyes open.

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos

This condition makes it impossible for the eyes to close, meaning the eyes stay either partially or fully open all the time. Surprisingly, this is a common problem up to 20 percent of people may experience in their lifetime. It’s also the most common reason you might sleep with your eyes open.

Trauma/Injury

Injury to the facial muscles, facial nerves, or the eyelids themselves can cause you to be unable to close your eyes. Injuries include brain trauma, facial trauma, botched cosmetic surgery, and burns.

Eyelid Surgery

A drooping upper eyelid is known as ptosis. This condition may cause the eyelid to partially or completely droop over the eye, limiting or blocking normal vision. Several different surgical procedures can help relieve this condition, but they can also sometimes cause eyelid damage or shorten the eyelid to the point it can’t close entirely.

Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune diseases can sometimes affect your eyelids and facial muscles. Guillain-Barré syndrome can impact a person’s ability to control the muscles of their face, making blinking and closing the eyelids difficult or impossible. Both multiple sclerosis and myasthenia gravis can cause eyelid paralysis, while Grave’s disease can cause the eyes to bulge, making it difficult for lids to close over them.

Stroke

A stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain either ruptures or becomes blocked. Either way, blood supply to portions of the brain is restricted or cut off. A lot of times, cranial nerves or brain cells that control facial movements can be damaged or killed, leading to facial paralysis. If you’ve had a stroke, you might no longer have control of one or both eyelids. A stroke is a severe medical problem. If you think you’re having one, seek medical attention immediately.

FAQs

How can I relieve eyes that stay open during sleep?

Eye drops like artificial tears and lubricating gels can help relieve dryness in your eyes if you’re sleeping with them open. There are also several surgical options to correct eyelid problems, repair nerves, etc. Some of these procedures involve changing the position of either the upper or lower eyelid. Implanting gold weights into the upper eyelid can also help eyes close by letting gravity do the work for you.

Can I learn to sleep with my eyes open for boring things like long meetings?

You technically can, but you shouldn’t. When you go to sleep with your eyes open, even just for a nap, you’re going to stop blinking. Even just a short stint of not blinking is bad for your eyes because it causes you to not get enough tear lubrication—leading to issues like chronic dry eye symptoms, eye infections, and corneal abrasions.

How do I figure out if my eyes are open while I sleep?

Many people who sleep with their eyes open aren’t aware they’re doing so. If you’re consistently waking up with itchy, tired, dry, or red eyes you could be sleeping with them open. If you think you might be doing this, ask someone to look in on you while you’re sleeping, or see a sleep specialist.

Is there any way to force my eyes to close during sleep?

If you’re frustrated by sleep deprivation and irritated eyes, you might be tempted to bandage or tape your eyelids down, but this is a bad idea. Household adhesives can be dangerous to both the sensitive skin of your eyelids and your eyes themselves. Also, forcing eyelids closed by using pressure can deprive eyes of oxygen and alter their shape, impacting vision.

Your doctor can give you some alternatives to at-home remedies like this, such as external eyelid weights or surgical tape. However, don’t take any measures to force your eyes shut without speaking to your doctor first.

What are some of the problems long-term eyes-open sleeping can cause?

Side effects of this issue include eye injuries due to the surface of your eyes being unprotected while you sleep, leaving them vulnerable to scratches and abrasions. You can also develop corneal thinning, swelling, and ulcers because of excessive drying. Eventually, enough injury to the cornea can lead to scarring and may even cause the cornea to lose its clarity, leading to blurry vision and even vision loss.

The lack of adequate light blockage can also mess with your circadian rhythm: the body’s regulator of sleep-wake cycles. Since too much bright light hitting the eye can negatively impact the body clock, open eyes in the middle of the night can eventually lead to actual sleep conditions like insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders. Sleeping in a dark room can help, but treating the problem is better because of the risk of eye damage.

Bottom Line

Sleeping with your eyes open is more than just a weird sleep quirk; it’s a major issue and can damage eye health. But if you can’t help it, you still need to sleep. While there are a few things you can do in the short term to sleep with your eyes open, in the long term, you really should see a doctor. Depending on the severity of symptoms, your doc can offer you all kinds of treatment options from sleep devices to surgery, to help you achieve sweet dreams again.

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