My pet bulldog often sleeps with her eyes half open. The roof-rattling snores coming from her open mouth assure me that she is dreaming of T-bone steaks and chasing cats even though her eyes are clearly wide-open.
While this always creeps me out a little bit, it never strikes me as too peculiar. But the other day, it did make me wonder…
Can humans sleep with their eyes open, too?
And if they can, why in the world would anyone want to?
While I am still not quite sure why anyone would want to sleep with their eyes open, turns out that up to 10% of the population does in fact sleep with wide open peepers.1
Upon learning this my mind was instantly flooded with questions…
Why does this happen? How does it happen? Is it dangerous? Treatable? And again, why would anyone WANT to sleep with their eyes open?
Let’s find out!
Why Do People Sleep With Their Eyes Open?
Apparently, it is possible to train yourself to sleep with your eyes open, which will discuss a bit later. But outside of those who actually choose to sleep with their eyes open, most people generally suffer from one of two conditions which causes them to sleep open-eyed.
1. Nocturnal Lagophthalmos
The first condition is called nocturnal lagophthalmos and basically means an inability to fully close one’s eyelids at night. This condition is considered a form of facial paralysis and can be temporary or in some rare cases, permanent.2
Many things can cause nocturnal lagophthalmos. Possibilities include:
- skin disorders
- Bell’s Palsy
- a stroke
- thyroid disease
- a botched cosmetic surgery
Regardless of what specifically triggers nocturnal lagophthalmos, it almost always relates back to an issue with controlling the facial nerves.
A less common cause for sleeping with open eyes is a sleep disorder called parasomnia. Parasomnia is kind of a catch-all term for any abnormal sleep behavior such as sleep-eating, sleepwalking, sleep-sex, or even driving while asleep.
A parasomnia generally appears to be sleeping and while they are largely unconscious, part of their brain remains awake. This part of the brain is what allows them to perform actions like cooking, talking, driving, walking, etc.
Very frequently parasomnias perform these actions with open eyes, though often their eyes will appear glazed over and unresponsive. Considering that parasomnias potentially get behind the wheel of a car while asleep, seems like sleeping with open eyes should be the least of their concerns!
Driving while asleep is undeniably dangerous. But keeping your eyeballs exposed while sleeping can also have some dangerous side-effects.
Exposed Eyeballs: What’s the Harm?
Our eyes were designed with eyelids that close for a reason; several important reasons, in fact. The natural act of closing our eyelids while sleeping is pretty crucial for keeping our eyes healthy and safe long-term.
First of all, your eyelids protect your eyeballs from harmful foreign matter, debris, or bacteria. Think about it – if you’re standing outside and a sudden dust storm starts blowing around you, what do you do? You close your eyes!!
Your eyelids act as little shields to keep things like dust and other particles from damaging your delicate eyeballs.
If you sleep with your eyes open at night, your unconscious brain can’t tell your eyelids to close if environmental dangers threaten your precious eyeballs. This leaves your eyes vulnerable to anything that might harm them while you sleep. And even if you clean every single day, I can guarantee that your house still has more than enough dust to get trapped in your eyes
I can’t help but imagine dust mites or other bugs crawling over and having a midnight snack on my exposed eyeballs while I’m sleeping…YUCK! Possible night critters munching on my eyeball is the only reason that I need to keep my eyes firmly closed while sleeping, thank you very much!
Dry, Irritated Eyes
The next issue that accompanies sleeping with open eyes is the likelihood that you will suffer from dry and irritated eyeballs. This may not sound like a big deal, but it can be more dangerous than you might think.
Our eyes require constant lubrication in order to remain healthy and comfortable. During the day, continual blinking helps to maintain the necessary moisture. Since blinking stops when we sleep, the best possible way to keep eyes from drying out at night is to simply close them.3
People who sleep with their eyes open tend to wake up with dry, red, and irritated eyes. While this can be painful and annoying, it can also potentially cause long-term damage.
When your eyes are left open during sleep, your natural tears evaporate. Since those tears aren’t just for crying during a sad movie or a break-up, this evaporation can have unpleasant side-effects.
Tears possess important nutrients and natural antibiotics that help kill harmful viruses and bacteria. When those tears evaporate, your eyes become far more susceptible to infection and disease which can be painful and cause long-term vision problems, and make your eyes look tired, even when you have had a full night of sleep.
Evaporating tears due to chronic open-eyed sleeping also dries out your cornea, which over time, can cause ulcers or scarring of this tissue. Damage to your cornea can result in blurry vision, light sensitivity, and even partial blindness.
Treatment Options For Sleeping With Your Eyes Open
In most cases, the conditions that cause a person to sleep with their eyes open are treatable. However, if you suspect that you may be sleeping with your eyes open unintentionally, you should definitely discuss treatment options with your doctor or ophthalmologist.
The tricky thing about sleeping with your eyes open is that you may not be aware that you are doing it. After all, you’re asleep! But if you find yourself waking with very dry, irritated, or red eyes, you might be suffering from one of the above-mentioned conditions. Get to your doctor ASAP!
For nocturnal lagophthalmos, treatment options are often quite simple. Treatment may include one or several of the following:
1. Daily use of eye drops or eye ointment
If you have accepted the fact that you sleep with your eyes open, utilizing artificial tears several times a day in combination with the application of an eye gel or ointment before bed can reduce the painful symptoms associated with open-eye slumber.
2. Sleeping with an eye mask or eye goggles
Using an .eye mask or sleep goggles is a simple way to protect your eyeballs when sleeping. Although it doesn’t necessarily help them stay closed, it will keep out any harmful debris or particles that may damage your eye.
The Eye Hydrating Therapy Goggles by TranquilEyes offer a unique bonus of beads that can be heated up before wearing in order to stimulate tear production when you sleep.
3. Applying hypoallergenic tape
It may sound a bit strange or surgical, but in order to help keep the eyelids closed at night, gently applying a small amount of hypoallergenic tape can keep those eyelids shut.
In more serious cases surgery may be required. The surgery usually involves inserting delicate gold weights into the eyelids. These weights help to naturally weigh down eyelids and cause them to close on their own.
When it comes to parasomnias, these treatment options may or may not be effective. Depending on what is causing a person to suffer from parasomnia (and what type of activity they are doing in their sleep), specialty treatment of the abnormal behavior will likely need to occur before addressing their open eyes.
Intentionally Sleeping with Eyes Open – Why and How?
After everything that we have covered here, I can’t imagine why anyone would still want to sleep with their eyes open, but who am I to judge?
Some people feel that learning to rest with their eyes open is useful because it can be done anywhere, at any time. Sitting in a boring meeting at work? No longer will you have to fight to keep your eyelids open if you learn to master sleeping with open eyes. You can simply take a quick snooze and no one will know any better…just make sure that you aren’t a snorer!
The best way to master sleeping with your eyes open is to begin by practicing meditation. The goal is to be able to meditate, and eventually sleep with open-eyes, anywhere and at any time.
Initially you should practice meditating in a calm and quiet environment. You can work your way up to meditating on the subway down the road.
Here are some steps that you can take to perfect your meditation skills and work towards open-eyed snoozing:
Step 1. Find a quiet and peaceful place to lay down or sit comfortably.
Step 2. Start with half-closed eyes: Even though you want to eventually keep your eyes wide open, it may be easier to gradually get there by allowing your lids to stay at half-mast in the beginning. This can help block out external stimuli and keep your eyes from burning or getting to dry.
Step 3. -Block out the world: You want to achieve a mindset where you can block out all sounds, smells, and sights. Think about when you stare at something so long that it turns blurry and you almost don’t even see it anymore. Try staring at a stationary object like the ceiling fan or the wall. Allow yourself to focus only on that object.
Step 4. -Focus on Breathing: Practice belly breathing by drawing breath into your abdomen. Rest your hands on your belly and feel them rise as you breathe in. Listen to your breathing and focus all of your attention on how it sounds and feels.
Step 5. Float off to sleep: Okay, this is supposed to be the easy part! But it might not happen the first time you try meditating. The goal is to clear your mind and allow your body to rest so that you can drift off regardless of external stimuli around you. Keep practicing as meditation and sleeping with your eyes open can take some time to master.
Although having the ability to catch some zzz’s in that morning meeting at work without anyone knowing does sound appealing, overall sleeping with your eyes open sounds painful and possibly dangerous.
What are your thoughts about sleeping with wide-open eyes? Have you ever tried it or know anyone who has? Share your thoughts and comments with us here!!