The concept sounds contradictory. But sleeping with your eyes open is indeed possible. In fact, it’s quite common. Up to 20% of people will suffer from nocturnal lagophthalmos at some point in their lives.
Nocturnal lagophthalmos is a sleep disorder in which a person is unable to close their eyes while sleeping. This condition can be a result of several other, more serious underlying conditions. These conditions may require medical attention.
Sleeping with your eyes open briefly and occasionally will not likely lead to much harm. However, consistently sleeping with your eyes open can lead to long-term damage to your eye health. Follow along as we describe causes of open-eye sleeping, how it can affect your eyes, and how one can practice this.
Open-Eye Sleeping Causes
In many cases, the potential cause of nocturnal lagophthalmos is difficult to diagnose. This is especially true if it’s sporadic or short-term. The condition may disappear on its own or be mild enough to manage. In other cases, it may develop as a result of something more severe.
Damaged Facial Nerve
Nerves in the face control the eyelid. The facial nerve usually automates blinking your eyes while you’re awake and closing them at night. However, damage to this nerve can render it less effective in managing these unconscious tasks.
Certain medical conditions can lead to this nerve damage. These conditions require medical attention, so sleeping with your eyes open can be a warning sign of something more serious. Here are some potential sources of sleeping with your eyes open.
Bell’s Palsy is a nerve disorder affecting the facial nerve. In most cases, sufferers will have a very sudden onset of partial- to full-paralysis of one side of their face. The causes of Bell’s Palsy are varied and generally poorly understood, but the disorder is usually temporary. It will typically go away within one to two months.
Those with Bell’s Palsy will likely have difficulty controlling their facial movements on one side. This includes the eyelid. This may lead to sleeping with one eye open.
Blepharoplasty is a procedure in which the eyelid is surgically modified. This can be done for medical or aesthetic reasons. It’s a very common type of cosmetic surgery.
In some cases, botched blepharoplasty surgery can lead to the removal of too much eyelid tissue. This, in turn, can prevent the eyelid(s) from fully closing.
Some rare diseases can cause the eyes to remain open during sleep. Moebius syndrome is a rare disease that weakens facial muscles. Individuals suffering from this will struggle to control any movement in their faces.
Autoimmune diseases like Guillain-Barré syndrome can also affect the nerves in the face. Guillain-Barré syndrome affects the peripheral nervous system — that is, the nervous system except for the brain and spinal cord.
The syndrome causes the immune system to attack the protective layer surrounding nerves. If this affects the facial nerve, it can make automatic responses like closing your eyes while sleeping difficult.
A stroke may lead to nerve damage in the face. Those who have suffered a stroke should seek medical attention immediately, as it is a life-threatening condition.
A tumor can damage the facial nerve as well. As with a stroke, a tumor can be a dangerous condition (depending on the type of tumor). A doctor can potentially remove the tumor to prevent further damage to the nerve.
Open-Eye Sleeping Side Effects
There’s a good reason we sleep with our eyes closed. The eyelids retain necessary moisture, protect the eyes against foreign objects, and maintain general eye health.
Occasionally sleeping with your eyes open will not necessarily cause damage. But regular open-eye sleeping can lead to long-term eye damage. This is why it’s best to avoid habitually sleeping with your eyes open.
Poor Sleep and Sleep Deprivation
The eyelids keep out the external stimulus of light. However, sleeping with your eyes open allows more light stimulus to reach your eyes. This can lead to frequent waking, which can cause poor poor sleep and sleep deprivation.
The retinal ganglion cells in your eyes are closely tied to your circadian rhythm. This means the timing of light exposure can alter your body clock. By sleeping with your eyes open, you allow more light to reach your retinal ganglion cells and risk damaging your sleep cycle.
Additionally, exposure to artificial light while sleeping has been linked to increased obesity. If you tend to sleep with your eyes open, turn off the lights and the television.
Long-term open-eye sleeping can lead to poor eye health. Chief among these effects may be dry eyes due to moisture loss while sleeping. Blurred vision, itchy eyes, and red eyes are also common. In more serious cases, open-eye sleeping can lead to corneal ulcers, in which open sores can occur on the cornea. In a worst-case scenario, a total loss of vision could occur.
Treatment for Open-Eye Sleeping
Many treatments can mitigate the effects of sleeping with your eyes open.
If open-eye sleeping is a consistent problem, an ophthalmologist may test you to see if you can completely close your eyes when you’re awake. In milder cases, an eye mask or moisturizing goggles can be effective. A medical-grade tape can also be used to close the eyes.
In more serious cases, doctors may recommend a gold weight implant to the upper eyelid. This helps to keep the eyelid closed.
Dry eyes are a consistent problem when sleeping with your eyes open. Eye drops can keep the eyes moist. They should be applied before and after sleeping. Turning off the fan or air conditioner and sleeping with a humidifier can also keep your eyes from drying out.
If you’re concerned about sleeping with your eyes open, visit your ophthalmologist. They’ll conduct a lagophthalmos evaluation to see what treatment may be right for you.
Can You Train Yourself to Sleep With Your Eyes Open?
It’s possible to train yourself to sleep with your eyes open, but it is not recommended as a long-term practice. But if you intend to catch a bit of shut-eye during the occasional boring meeting or lecture, open-eye sleeping can help you get some rest.
Focus on a stationary object to center your vision. Concentrate on your breathing to calm your mind. Tense and then relax your body beginning in your toes and moving up. Repeat this a few times if necessary.
While you may not get any deep sleep this way, it may help you fall asleep with your eyes open. This can help you get extra sleep if you’re sleep-deprived.
Common Questions About How to Sleep With Your Eyes Open
Since sleeping with open eyes is an unusual practice, there are plenty of related common questions. Here are some we’ve been asked.
Why Does My Baby Sleep With His/Her Eyes Open?
It’s more normal than one might think for a baby to sleep with open eyes. It doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Babies spend more time in REM sleep than adults. REM sleep is when the brain is more active during sleep, and it may lead to the baby sleeping with open eyes. If you see your baby asleep with eyes open, gently close their eyelids.
In some cases, nocturnal lagophthalmos is genetic. If you’re concerned your baby sleeps open-eyed too often, consult your physician.
What Happens If Your Eyeballs Dry Out?
Eye moisture is crucial to healthy eyes. Without adequate moisture, the eyes can experience a number of unwanted symptoms.
One of the chief concerns of dry eyes is an increased risk of eye infection. The eyes’ natural tears prevent bacterial colonization. Removing the tears allows bacteria to grow unchecked.
Common symptoms of dry eyes include itchiness, stinging, and burning. Your eyes can develop sensitivity to light and may become red. They may be watery more than normal, which is a response to dryness. You may also experience the feeling of a foreign object in your eye when there isn’t one.
Can You Survive Without Eyelids?
Yes, theoretically. But you would need eye protection like goggles to prevent dust or other foreign objects damaging your eye. Furthermore, you’d need to continually moisturize your eyes with eye drops or artificial tears. It’s possible, but it wouldn’t be enjoyable.
So, How Do You Sleep With Your Eyes Open?
While it’s possible to sleep with your eyes open, it’s not recommended. It’s generally considered a medical problem, ranging from mild to severe. Serious cases can lead to long-term eye problems and require medical treatment.
You can train yourself to catch brief naps with your eyes open, which may prove valuable if you’re extremely busy or underslept. However, a better idea is simply to seek more quality sleep.
There’s no replacement for having regular quality sleep. Sleep, after all, is one of the most important parts of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s also one of the few times you should go through life with your eyes closed.