Sleeping with the eyes at least partially open is actually a relatively common condition. Many people do it without knowing it. (Learn More)

Nocturnal lagophthalmos is when people sleep with their eyes partially or fully open. Dry eyes and poor sleep are two common symptoms of the condition. (Learn More)

Some people sleep with their eyes open without ever knowing it, while others experience serious complications. Eye infection and vision loss can result from nocturnal lagophthalmos. (Learn More)

Fortunately, there are many treatment options for nocturnal lagophthalmos. Treatment ranges from medical tape over the eyes and eye drops to ointments and surgery. (Learn More)

As many as one in five people sleep with their eyelids at least partially open at night. (Learn More) See an ophthalmologist, or ask a friend or family member to take a photo of you while you are sleeping. Both these methods can help you know if you have nocturnal lagophthalmos. (Learn More)

Do People Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

Most people’s eyes close softly and completely as they fall asleep. The eyelids also stay shut while you are sleeping. However, some people sleep with their eyes at least partially open.

People who sleep with their eyes open do not have wide open eyes the whole night. Rather, they may have eyelids that don’t quite close all the way.

There are a number of reasons that people’s eyes might stay partially open as they sleep. Reasons that people sleep with eyes open include:

  • Being born with eyelids that don’t close the whole way.
  • Eyelid muscles that are damaged by injury, inflammation, or infection.
  • Facial nerves that have been paralyzed by conditions such as Bell’s palsy, stroke, or tumor.
  • Having a condition that causes the eyes to bulge forward, such as Graves’ disease.
  • Surgery, such as blepharoplasty, that has altered how the eyelids move.

People who sleep with their eyes open are still able to fall asleep easily and may not even notice a difference in their quality of sleep. For some people, however, sleeping with open eyes can dry out and irritate the eyes, resulting in less restful sleep and eyes that remain irritated after waking up.

What Is Nocturnal Lagophthalmos?

Nocturnal lagophthalmos is the medical term for sleeping with your eyes open. It can be hard to know if you have nocturnal lagophthalmos, as most people discover they are sleeping with their eyes open because someone else tells them they are. Knowing the potential symptoms of nocturnal lagophthalmos can help you determine if you have the condition.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), symptoms of nocturnal lagophthalmos include:

  • Dry eyes.
  • The sense that something is in your eye.
  • Red eyes.
  • Blurred vision after waking up.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Poor sleep and feeling unrested when you wake up.

Dry eyes is one of the primary symptoms of nocturnal lagophthalmos that can then cause other symptoms. Addressing these symptoms as soon as you notice them is important so that more severe complications don’t develop.

Complications From Sleeping With Your Eyes Open

Although sleeping with the eyes open may seem like a relatively harmless condition, it can lead to serious eye and vision problems. Sleeping with the eyes open exposes them to drying out, which increases the risk of infection as well as damage to the eyes.

Complications that can develop in dry or dehydrated eyes include:

  • Eye infection.
  • Scratches on the eye.
  • Damage to the outermost layer of the eyeball or cornea.
  • Corneal ulcer.
  • Loss of vision.

While many people don’t even realize they have nocturnal lagophthalmos, other people can develop severe symptoms. It is important not to ignore these symptoms, as serious threats to your vision and eye health can occur.

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos Treatment Options

A range of treatment options is available for nocturnal lagophthalmos, depending on the causes and severity of your personal case. Before you try anything at home, see an ophthalmologist to receive a proper eye exam and assessment of what is causing you to sleep with your eyes open.

Following an eye exam, your eye doctor can make an informed recommendation. Treatment options as outlined by the AAO include:

  • Using medically safe tape to tape the eyelids shut at night.
  • Applying eye-wetting drops or ointment at night.
  • Treatment of the underlying condition that is preventing you from closing your eyes, when possible.
  • Surgery to fix how the eyelid moves.
  • Surgery to help the eyelids close by adding weight to them.

To avoid damage to your eyes and vision as a result of sleeping with your eyes open, speak with an ophthalmologist about the most appropriate treatment options for you.

How Many People Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

Sleeping with the eyes either partially or fully open is actually a relatively common condition. Up to 20 percent of people experience nocturnal lagophthalmos. Babies, children, and adults are affected by the condition.

For some people, sleeping with the eyes open is a hereditary condition. Most children, however, grow out of the condition.

How to Know if You Sleep With Your Eyes Open

Sleeping with your eyes open can be harder to recognize than you think. You may not even realize that you are sleeping with your eyes open, explains AAO. If you wake up with irritated or dry eyes and haven’t been sleeping well, try asking a partner, family member, or friend to take a photo of you while you are sleeping.

During an eye exam, an ophthalmologist can also test to see if your eyelids are closing completely. In order to avoid complications associated with nocturnal lagophthalmos, this diagnosis is important. You’ll also receive recommendations from the doctor for the safest and more effective treatment options.

References

Can You Really Sleep with Your Eyes Open? National Sleep Foundation.

Sleeping With Eyes Open. (October 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

What Happens if You Sleep With Your Eyes Open? (April 2018). Medical News Today.

One in Five People Sleep With Their Eyes Open. (January 2020). Psychology Today.