Last updated on October 19th, 2018
The idea of sleeping with your eyes open might sound a little creepy, but is it even possible? The answer is a resounding “yes”, and there’s even a clinical term for sleeping with your eyes open. It’s called “nocturnal lagophthalmos,” and you might be doing it without realizing.
Can You Sleep With Your Eyes Open?
Yes, you can indeed sleep with your eyes open. In fact, somewhere between 10% and 20% of the population sleeps with eyes open at least on occasionally. Those who do sleep with their eyes open are likely to do it only sporadically.
Of course, there’s a natural reason why most people sleep with their eyes closed. When your eyes are closed, the interior of the eyelid covers your eyeball with tear fluid. This thin layer of fluid creates the moisture that your eyes’ cells need to perform at their peak potential.
It’s the same reason why you blink: Your eyes’ cells need moisture to function properly. If you don’t blink, and if you don’t sleep with your eyes closed, your eyes may not function properly — which can create some risks if you’re one of the few who sleeps with eyes open.
What Causes Someone to Sleep With Their Eyes Open?
In many cases, sleeping with your eyes open is simply a family trait — something that is passed down from generation to generation. But, in other cases, there may be a specific reason why you or someone you know is sleeping with eyes open. Those reasons include:
- Injury or damage to the eye or eyelid
- Autoimmune conditions like Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Moebius syndrome, which includes palsies of the cranial nerve
- Neuromuscular disease
- Bell’s palsy
If you are sleeping with your eyes open due to one of the causes listed above, you may need to take measures to ensure your eyes are getting the moisture they need. There are products and prescriptions that can help with moisture, if you need them.
Infections can lead to sleeping with your eyes open, too. Nocturnal lagophthalmos can be caused by mumps, polio, diphtheria, botulism, chickenpox, Lyme disease, leprosy and similar conditions. In these cases, sleeping with your eyes open is likely to dissipate along with the infection.
How to Sleep With Your Eyes Open
You can find tips and techniques for sleeping with your eyes open. Those tips and techniques are typically based in meditation practices, and they might include half closing your eyes, deep focus on specific objects, clearing your mind, blocking out all stimulation, etc.
But sleeping with your eyes open isn’t something to strive for. Sure, you may want to catch a cat nap at work without anyone noticing, but sleeping with your eyes open isn’t necessarily a healthy thing for your body.
As mentioned above, your eye cells need moisture to function at their best, and sleeping with your eyes open deprives your eye cells of that moisture.
The Symptoms of Sleeping With Your Eyes Open
How do you know if you’re sleeping with your eyes open? It can be hard to tell as it only happens when you’re, well, asleep. But there are some telltale symptoms that might indicate you suffer from nocturnal lagophthalmos, including:
- Dry eyes
- Red eyes
- Blurry vision
- Poor sleep quality
- Scratchiness, burning or irritation
If you become concerned about sleeping with your eyes open, start by visiting your primary care physician. He or she can ask questions and run tests to help identify whether or not there’s a reason for concern. In some cases, you may find that your doctor prescribes ophthalmic ointments (which can help with irritation and scratching), eye drops or artificial tears.
In severe cases of nocturnal lagophthalmos, you can risk infections, cornea damage, sores, a greater likelihood of scratching or other injury, as well as vision loss. When in doubt, visit your doctor to ensure you get the treatment needed to avoid these risks.
Here’s a video that highlights what happens to the body when you sleep with your eyes open:
Treatments for Sleeping With Your Eyes Open
If you visit a medical professional about your issues with sleeping with your eyes open, he or she may prescribe topical ointments or drops. But, before you resort to visiting your doctor, you can always try out a sleep mask or eye moisturizing goggles.
These products are available over-the-counter, and they aim to either help you keep your eyes closed or to moisturize your eyes when open. It’s always a good idea to seek the advice of your doctor, but a mask or goggles may help mitigate your symptoms prior to your appointment.
But, also lean on the advice and guidance of your doctor. If you find that you’re getting poor quality sleep and there’s really no possible explanation other than sleeping with your eyes open, visit a medical professional, take his or her advice and follow the prescribed course of action.