Sleeping in Contact Lenses: DON’T DO IT!

May 9, 2013
Disposable contact lenses
How to safely wear contact lenses

The facts about extended wear contact lenses may not make you happy.

Those of you who wear contact lenses know that the “dream” situation would be to put them in and never take them out!  Not too long ago a contact lens was developed that was touted as nearly achieving that status.  It was advertised as safe to wear for as long as one month.  That proved not to be possible.  Nevertheless, extended-wear lenses are approved to be worn for periods greater than your usual waking hours and can even be worn during sleep.  Dr. Gold’s adamant advice: DON’T DO IT. 

Why Can’t They Be “Permanent-Wear”?

Any contact lens, no matter how good, interferes to some degree with the nutrition and oxygenation of the cornea, the transparent “watch glass” that lies over the iris (colored part of the eye).  When you are awake, the oxygen comes from the air and from your tears.  When you are sleeping, it comes from the tears and via a filtering process from the nearby blood vessels inside your eyelids.

If you leave a hard (PMMA) lens on your cornea while you sleep, within a few hours some of your corneal cells will “choke”, die, and shed off permanently from lack of oxygen.  Thousands of nerves will be exposed, causing you to awaken with extreme eye pain.

Standard soft contact lenses and gas permeable lenses allow a small amount of oxygen to pass through them, so they can get you by for a short nap.  But there won’t be enough oxygen for a night’s sleep without harming your corneas.  Extended-wear lenses theoretically can be worn overnight because they are more porous than the other types and allow more oxygen to reach the corneas.  Still, they do not permit as much oxygenation as wearing no contacts at all.

 Extended-wear contacts offer great convenience, as long as you don’t put them in and forget about them.  Just as with other contacts, it is absolutely essential that you follow instructions for wearing time, cleaning and sterilization, and you return for regular check-ups.  Patients who don’t remove the lenses at all, or who never sterilize or clean the lenses may think they are getting away with their carelessness, but they are tempting fate – ocular disasters or near-disasters, such as sudden, painful red eyes or corneal ulcers, which can become infected and result in loss of sight.

The infection rate comparing daily wear to overnight wear is astronomically greater.  This can vary from mild conjunctivitis to vision threatening corneal ulcers, which in the extreme might perforate leading to loss of the eye.  The reduction of oxygen to the cornea can lead to swelling with potential invasion of blood vessels from the white sclera to the cornea which is supposed to be clear with no blood vessels.  Dr. Gold has been personally involved in the care of patients who have been blinded by contact lens abuse.

Guidelines for Successful Wear


Be sure you understand how to care for the lenses.  Follow all instructions for cleaning and sterilizing.  Commit to regular follow-up exams and keep every appointment.

Every morning, look at your eyes in the mirror and if they are least bit bloodshot or inflamed discontinue lenses and call our office that very day and ask for advice.  Do not wear the lenses again until you have been instructed to do so.  If you have any pain or unusual light sensitivity that you did not have before, you must call as soon as possible, and make sure the doctor knows you are having a problem.

When you travel, always keep your glasses with you.  If you have any problems at all with the contacts, remove them and switch to wearing eyeglasses until you can see a doctor.  If you have major problems, seek medical help wherever you are rather than risk waiting until you are home.  Delay in treatment of some eye problems (corneal ulcer or infection) can result in loss of eyesight.

If you have any problems that keep recurring, you may need to change to ordinary soft or gas permeable lenses rather than risk permanent damage to your corneas.

Unquestionably, extended-wear lenses are convenient, but that convenience lures you into becoming complacent.  DON’T!  Stay alert to the potential problems and you may achieve great satisfaction and comfort from them. 

Daily disposable contacts are a type of soft contact lenses designed to be worn for one day and then thrown away. 

These lenses are more expensive and require more office time than other lenses.  If you think they may fit into your lifestyle and needs, we will be happy to discuss them with you.

Excerpted from Triad Notes with permission

Dr. Jeffrey D. Gold is an award winning surgeon who practices at Liberty Vision in Hamden, Connecticut. He is the recipeint of the coveted "New Haven Advocate Reader's Poll" BEST PLACE FOR LASIK and has successfully performed over 11,000 laser vision correction procedures.