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You Really Shouldn't Be Sleeping In Your Contacts And Here's Why

And yes, that includes naps, too.

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  1. OK, be honest: Do you ever sleep in your contact lenses?

    Correct
    Incorrect
    No way, who does that?
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Only for naps every now and then.
    Correct
    Incorrect
    OK, yes, sometimes I am a bit lazy and just go to bed without dealing with it, but not like, ALL the time.
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Basically always.
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OK, be honest: Do you ever sleep in your contact lenses?
  1.  
    vote votes
    No way, who does that?
  2.  
    vote votes
    Only for naps every now and then.
  3.  
    vote votes
    OK, yes, sometimes I am a bit lazy and just go to bed without dealing with it, but not like, ALL the time.
  4.  
    vote votes
    Basically always.

Hey look, no judgment — I do, too, sometimes.

Kiesha M. / Thinkstock / Getty

And that's in spite of the fact that I'm a health editor and my dad is an eye doctor and my mom once basically gave herself two massive corneal abrasions when she fell asleep for a few hours on the beach with hard contacts in, and then hastily took them out when she woke up. Oopsies!

Let's just say that I should damn well know better.

And I basically do know better, or at least I thought I did. But then when Peggy, the editorial director here at BuzzFeed Life, asked me what the definitive ruling is on whether sleeping in your contacts is good or bad or meh, I wasn't totally sure. I mean, it's bad, I thought, definitely not advised by the medical community. And there was a girl who wore her contact lenses for six months straight and an amoeba ended up eating her eyes. But I wasn't sure if it was one of those things that's "bad" in theory but in practice won't actually cause any harm if you only do it every once in a while, and not all day every day and night for six months in a row. Right?

PS: That's not my eye up there.

But then I was genuinely curious, so I reached out to the American Academy of Ophthalmology to see if they had an official answer, and maybe some stats. And they did!

charnsitr / Thinkstock / Getty

Of course they did!

I spoke at length with Thomas Steinemann, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. And he had a lot to say about this!

Namely:

Seriously do not sleep in your contact lenses, people. You're just asking for trouble.

Jens Gade / Thinkstock / Getty

Not a direct quote, btw, but that's the gist. He was really adamant about it. In an understanding way, but also in a way that was like: Yo, really, STOP THAT, it's bad, and not just pretend-bad, but actually bad. And here's why:

"Sleeping in your contacts is a problem because the contact lens is made up of plastic and it impairs the oxygen flow to your cornea," he says. The cornea is the outer clear covering of the eye, and it's about as thick as a credit card. It has no blood flow, so it relies on the oxygen in the air. When you have a contact lens covering your eyeball for an extended period of time, that impedes the oxygen flow. (And when you have your contact lens + your closed eyelid all night... that impedes oxygen even more). And then this happens: "It alters the physiology of the eye," Steinemann says.

NOT SO GOOD. And that's not all. Because when you do that, you're then exposing a sensitive eyeball to a (let's be honest) super dirty contact lens. "No matter how careful you are, contact lenses get dirty, and get coated with protein and germs," he says. "In situations where you disrupt the physiology of the surface cells of the eye, you increase the binding ability of the germs already on the lens to bind to the cornea. And once they bind to the cornea, they can invade the cornea. And once they invade, that's when the keratitis starts."

FYI, keratitis is inflammation of the cornea. And it sucks, a lot lot.

Steinemann shared some stats that helped drive this point home.

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Nearly 1 million people in the United States end up at the doctor with keratitis every year, according to the CDC.

And the vast majority of those cases were due to improper use and care of contact lenses — including sleeping in them.

About 58,000 people end up in the emergency room with keratitis each year.

And a study from Australia found that people who occasionally sleep in their contact lenses actually have 6.5 times higher risk of keratitis than people who don't.

That was for people who sleep in their contacts on average LESS than once a week, btw. Not like an every-other-day thing.

"We recommend that you take your contacts out every night," Steinemann says. Yes, even if you have those contacts that you supposedly can wear for extended periods of time.

"This is something that is confusing to people because there are some lenses that are so-called approved for extended wear, but again we don't recommend people sleeping in lenses," he says. "I'm a cornea specialist and I tend to see people who've gotten into trouble with these infections, and invariably many of these people have slept in their lenses — even napped in their lenses."

More on this here.

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When do you know if you've got an eyeball problem, btw?

Ingram Publishing / Thinkstock / Getty

"Contact lens problems all start out the same way — to the uninitiated wearer, it'll start out with something not feeling right," he says. "It's not going to feel right, it'll hurt, your eyes will be red, and you'll be light-sensitive. If you're feeling those symptoms you should take out your lenses. You take the contact lens out and to keep it out of your eye, generally within a short time the discomfort should improve. If it doesn't, and you feel like things are worsening, obviously see your eye care professional."

Oh, and a quick note about that eyeball amoeba I mentioned above.

Dan B. Jones, http://M.D. / Via cdc.gov

There is a parasite called acanthamoeba found in all water sources, including your drinking water. And it's perfectly fine to drink and swim in and bathe in and all that, but when it gets on your contact lenses and/or into your eyeball, bad things can happen. "It's a devastating, painful infection," Steinemann says. "A lot of patients, once it gets established, need aggressive and even surgical care, and can end up with major problems." Yes, possibly like that girl who kept her contacts in for six months. (Pictured here is someone with an acanthamoeba in their eye, from the CDC.)

THAT BEING SAID, also worth mentioning that amoebas in the eyeball is a really rare thing. "The classic number is always one in a million," he says, although he believes that it's a bit more common than that. And also another good thing: It's mostly entirely preventable with good contact lens care habits — among other things, don't wash them with water, don't use them in pools and hot tubs, make sure to wash your contact lens case with multi-purpose solution and not water, and, oh yeah, don't sleep in your contacts.

  1. OK great! Well now that we have that covered, do you think you'll still be sleeping in your contacts?

    Correct
    Incorrect
    Never again.
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Probably, tbh.
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Actually I'm invincible and impervious to eyeball germs, so. This is all irrelevant information to me.
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OK great! Well now that we have that covered, do you think you'll still be sleeping in your contacts?
  1.  
    vote votes
    Never again.
  2.  
    vote votes
    Probably, tbh.
  3.  
    vote votes
    Actually I'm invincible and impervious to eyeball germs, so. This is all irrelevant information to me.

Oh, hey, one more thing: The images in this post (other than the one from the CDC) are all just rando pics of people with red eyes that I found from stock photo sites. I don't know if the people in them actually have keratitis or if their eyes are red for some other reason entirely. That said, red eyes can be a symptom of keratitis for sure, so... the more you know.

 
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