How to Sleep With Your Eyes Open
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How to Sleep With Your Eyes Open

Sleep Health
Read Time: 5 minutes

Sleeping with your eyes open is not only possible, it is a skill you can learn. However, while we each have this power, we really shouldn’t use it—teaching yourself to sleep with your eyes open is bad for your eyes, sleep quality, and your overall health. However, some sleepers can’t help but sleep with their eyes open; this condition is called nocturnal lagophthalmos.

If you can’t help but fall asleep with your eyes open or are having trouble breaking this habit, our tips can help you get better sleep with this condition and minimize the damage it can have on your overall eye health.

1. Fix Your Eyes on One Spot

Before falling asleep, set yourself up in a dark room and find something motionless to focus on as you drift off. Avoid moving objects or distractions in your sleep space since they may make it more difficult to fall (and stay) asleep.

2. Breath Slowly

Once you’ve settled into a quiet, comfy spot, turn your attention to your breathing. Take deep, slow breathes, in and out; t keeps your muscles relaxed and slows your thoughts.

3. Relax Your Muscles

Focus on each muscle in your body and tell it to relax. A good method is tensing each muscle for five seconds, then releasing—starting at your toes and working up to the top of your head. This is another great “fall asleep fast” method for those struggling with insomnia, as it serves as a distraction and allows you to fully focus on relaxing your body and falling asleep.

4. Let Your Mind Wander

It’s very easy to overthink this step…so don’t. Let your mind go wherever it wants, and eventually, it will slow down. Now that your muscles are relaxed, your eyes zoned out, and your breathing and thoughts calm, sleep should come quickly.

Practicing good sleep hygiene and setting yourself up in a peaceful environment to achieve healthy sleep is one way to get better rest at night, even if you can’t help but keep your eyes open. Eventually, after improving sleep health, you may be able to kick this habit, but until then, you can follow these steps (and use plenty of moisturizing eye drops) to safely fall asleep with your eyes open.

Do remember, this technique may take some practice, so don’t feel discouraged if you have trouble drifting off or it doesn’t work right away. Over time, you’ll start sleeping better and waking up feeling refreshed. And if you’re unable to naturally kick your nocturnal lagophthalmos, we suggest talking with your doctor about your sleeping habits.

The Importance of Eyelids

Now that we know how to keep our eyes open while we sleep, it’s time to talk about why it should be avoided if possible. Eyelids are more than just facial features—they guard the eyes against particles and germs, and keep them hydrated. Having them open all night, or even just for a nap, leaves your eyes unprotected.

Every time you blink, your eyelids reapply a layer of tears to your eyes. Your tears are how your eyes stay clean, free of debris, and healthy. Even the smallest particle causes discomfort. (Remember the last time you got an eyelash in your eye?)

Why Do People Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

While some people try to train themselves to sleep with their eyes open, others can’t help it. If you naturally sleep with your eyes open and are unable to stop the habit, you probably have nocturnal lagophthalmos. This condition occurs when you’re physically unable to close your eyes during sleep, and only about 20 percent of people suffer from nocturnal lagophthalmos (to varying degrees).

There are a few obvious symptoms of nocturnal lagophthalmos, including itchy and irritated eyes, blurry vision, and daytime exhaustion—these are the results of your eyes being open all night and drying out. However, some people may be unaware they have this condition. If you think you could have nocturnal lagophthalmos, we suggest talking to your doctor about your risk and treatment options.

Causes of Nocturnal Lagophthalmos

Nocturnal lagophthalmos is often a genetic condition, but it can also be the result of damage to the facial nerve. This is the nerve that tells your eyelids to open and close. There are many ways this nerve can be damaged, but the main three are a stroke, Bell’s Palsy, or injury by a blunt or sharp object.  Thankfully, there are many helpful treatments and surgeries out there ready to treat this sleeping condition. The right treatment for your nocturnal lagophthalmos will largely depend on the condition’s cause, so let’s dive into more detail about how this can originate.

Result of a Stroke

After a stroke, it’s common to lose muscle control in parts of your body, including facial muscles. Many stroke survivors are able to regain muscle control with physical therapy. In the meantime, non-surgical treatments like artificial tears and moisture goggles will keep your eyes safe at night.

Bell’s Palsy

Nocturnal lagophthalmos may be a symptom of Bell’s Palsy—a condition brought on by the compression of the seventh cranial nerve. The result is temporary weakening or paralysis of facial muscles, including ones in charge of the eyelids. Bell’s Palsy is a temporary condition, so surgical treatment is not necessary. Artificial tears, moisture goggles, or sleeping masks offer nightly eye protection while the Bell’s Palsy runs its course.

Injury By a Blunt or Sharp Object

A blow or deep cut to your face can easily damage the delicate muscles and nerves around your eyes. Not being able to fully close your eyes is one potential result of this kind of injury. Surgery might be the best option for anyone with this type of nocturnal lagophthalmos.

FAQs

Do your eyes roll back while you sleep?

Your eyes don’t just roll back and stay that way when you fall asleep, they move around. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is the stage of sleep when our eyes move rapidly in all directions; this is also when we have our most vivid dreams.

Is it possible to fall asleep while walking?

People who have narcolepsy fall asleep suddenly in all sorts of circumstances, including walking. These sudden naps are called “sleep attacks.” These episodes can be dangerous, and if you find yourself having sleep attacks, you should make a treatment plan with your doctor.

Why does my child sleep with their eyes open?

It is somewhat common for babies to sleep with their eyes partially open; this way of sleeping may be a genetic case of nocturnal lagophthalmos. Most babies grow out of sleeping this way by the time they are a year and a half. If they don’t, check in with your pediatrician.

What happens when your eyes dry out?

Eyes drying out can result in a damaged cornea, blurry vision, and irritated eyes. Make sure you are well-hydrated—water is an important part of tear production—and sleep with your eyes closed. For those who physically can’t produce enough tears to protect their eyes, talk to your doctor about using artificial tears, moisture goggles, or other methods to keep your eyes moist.

Can you survive without eyelids?

You can survive without eyelids, but you may lose your sight. Without the eyelids to protect them, the corneas will dry out, crack, and stop working. But good news! There are surgical procedures that can create new eyelids.

Sleep With Your Eyes Closed

Being able to take a bonus nap on the fly may be handy, but it is not worth it in the long run. When your eyes close at night, they immediately get busy preparing for the next day—tears hydrate and clean the eyes, the facial muscles get a chance to rest, and your brain takes a much-needed break from all the stimulation of the day. Sleeping with your eyes open, even just for a nap now and then, isn’t doing your eyes any favors. It’s best not to teach yourself a habit that can harm your eyesight, and sleep quality.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

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