Can You Sleep With Your Eyes Open?

You might be surprised to hear that some people sleep with their eyes open. And it's more common that you'd expect. About 20% of people do it, including babies.

Doctors call this condition "nocturnal lagophthalmos." If you have it, you can usually close your eyes most of the way when you sleep, but not completely.

Many people who sleep with their eyes open don't realize it. Nocturnal lagophthalmos can lead to health problems over time, but there are ways to treat it.

Causes

There are several things that can cause nocturnal lagophthalmos. Some people are born with problems with their eyelids that keep them from shutting all the way.

Nocturnal lagophthalmos can also happen if you have a condition that affects the nerves in your face so that you can't close your eyes completely. This can happen if you had a stroke, serious injury, surgery, or Bell's palsy, which is a sudden weakness of the muscles in your face.

Another condition that can lead to nocturnal lagophthalmos is Graves' disease, which causes your eyes to bulge forward.

Symptoms of Sleeping With Your Eyes Open

This condition alone will not keep you from sleeping. But the side effects of nocturnal lagophthalmos, such as irritation and dryness of the eyes, may make you more restless as you sleep.

If you think you may sleep with your eyes open, ask a family member, friend, or partner to check your eyes while you sleep. Also look out for common symptoms of nocturnal lagophthalmos such as blurry vision, dry eyes, and being sensitive to light. You might also get red eyes or a feeling that something is stuck in your eye.

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your eye doctor. They'll be able to tell if your eyes fully close during an eye exam.

Treatment for Nocturnal Lagophthalmos

If you have nocturnal lagophthalmos, your doctor may give you eye drops and ointments that will keep your eyes from drying out.

Your doctor may also give you a small eyelid weight for the upper part of your eye. It will lightly pull your eyelid down when you sleep so that your eye can close completely. You may also need to use medical tape to shut your eyes while you sleep.

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Surgery is also an option if the other methods don't seem to help. Your doctor might put a weighted implant in the eyelids to help your eyes close correctly.

While sleeping with your eyes open can be fixed easily, it can be harmful if you ignore it. When you close your eyes or blink, tears wet your eyes to keep them healthy. If your eyes aren't able to close properly, they'll dry out. In serious cases this can lead to poor vision or loss of vision completely. Your eyes could also form ulcers or get scratched if they're not able to close.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on July 14, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

National Sleep Foundation: "Can You Really Sleep with Your Eyes Open?"

American Academy of Ophthalmology: "Sleeping with Eyes Open."

Cleveland Clinic: "What is Paralysis?"

Mayo Clinic: "Bell’s palsy."

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