Dry Eyes Waking Up: Causes, Tips, Treatment

If you have dry eyes waking up, you’re not alone. Many people experience waking up with dry eyes. It is a frustrating discomforting experience that can ruin a good night’s sleep. Let’s take a look at why it happens and what you can do about it. Prefer to watch a video? Check out the video here

Dry Eyes Waking Up: Causes

There are many different reasons patients can have dry eyes waking up.

Chronic Dry Eye 

The most common cause of waking up with dry eyes is having chronic dry eye that gets worse. In this case, patients already experience dry eye symptoms during the day. These patients may already be undergoing treatment for dry eye with artificial tears or prescription eye drops. 

Some of these symptoms of chronic dry eye include eyes that water during the day, gritty eyes, burning sensation in the eye, and even having painful eyes. Dry eye syndrome can also cause blurry vision

Age plays a significant role in the development of dry eyes, as tear production tends to decrease with age. Also, prolonged screen time with smart phone and computer use may also contribute to dry eyes. This is because people tend to blink less frequently while focusing on digital devices, resulting in decreased tear production. 

Sleeping With Eyes Open

If your dry eye is only something you experience when you wake up, it may be that you are sleeping with your eyes slightly open. This will expose the bottom part of your eyeball to the air for several hours overnight. This will dry this part of the eye out and cause you to have uncomfortable dry eyes symptoms. 

The easiest way to figure out if you sleep with your eyes slightly open is to ask a roommate or a spouse to check on you. If they notice that your eyes are slightly open during sleep, this is likely the cause of your morning dry eye symptoms. In this case, it is not a lack of tear production that is the cause of your symptoms. It is simply exposure to air for a long time during sleep. 

Environmental Factors In Your Sleeping Area

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of dry eye syndrome, with environmental conditions being one of them. Heaters or air conditioners, low humidity, and exposure to dust or allergens can increase the risk of waking up with dry eyes. 

Understanding these factors is the first step toward treating and preventing dry eyes upon waking up. If you are able to move your bed away from an air vent, stop the use of a ceiling fan, or increase the humidity in your room, this can help to reduce the severe symptoms of dry eyes.

Inappropriate Use Of Contact Lenses

If you are a contact lens wearer, then it is important to use your contact lenses correctly. This means, changing the contacts out regularly. For example, if they are two week lenses, you should not wear them for longer than 2 weeks. If they are daily lenses, then it is important to throw them out at the end of the day. If you fall asleep in your contact lenses, then this could be a cause for waking up with dry eyes. 

Dry Eyes Waking Up: Tips & Treatments

Luckily there are many different ways to treat the discomfort, irritation, and even blurry vision that happens with dry eye. Let’s take a look at what you can do. Remember, for a customized treatment plan, be sure to schedule a visit with your eye doctor. 

Eye Mask

For people who may be sleeping with their eyes slightly open, you can use a simple eye mask to help keep the eyes closed at night. Just by making sure the eyes are mechanically shut at night can be very helpful in relieving uncomfortable dry eye symptoms. Long periods of exposure to the elements can really cause the eye to dry out over night. Especially if you have an air conditioning unit that is blowing air in your bedroom, this can cause the air to become even more dry. A simple eye mask can help protect you eye from this.

Heated Eye Mask

If you are someone with chronic dry eyes, then blepharitis may be a contributing factor. In blepharitis, the fatty oils that help contribute to the tear film is not produced adequately. This is due to the glands in the eyelids being clogged. This type of dry eye can be alleviated by using heat on the eyelids. 

In meibomian gland dysfunction, the small meibomian glands, located on the edge of the eyelids, are not functioning properly. Their job is to make oil that helps to keep tears from evaporating too quickly. If the glands become blocked or do not function properly, the resulting imbalance can lead to dryness and discomfort. There are many heated eye masks that can help to relieve the chronic condition of blepharitis. 

Use Over The Counter Eye Lubricant

For people who sleep with their eyes open, using an eye lubricant can be very helpful.

Address Medical Issues

Certain medical conditions can make having dry eyes when you wake up much worse. An example of this is Sjogren’s Syndrome. Managing medical issues that could be contributing to dry eye will help to relieve overall symptoms.  Floppy eyelid syndrome may also be associated with dry eye that gets worse at night. The best way to do this is to work with your eye doctor as well as primary care doctor to address any underlying medical problems.

Make Lifestyle Changes

Changing your environment and behavior can help improve dry eye symptoms. For example, take regular breaks from screen time and do your best to not to use digital devices right before bed. Also, using a humidifier overnight to help with dry eyes that get worse at night. If you wear contact lenses, do your best to decrease the amount of time that you use them each day. Wear your glasses for the last few hours of the day before you go to bed. Additionally, using a sleep mask and eye lubricant can also be helpful.

There was a study done in Japan that found a relationship between unhealthy sleep status and dry eye symptoms, with difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and frequent waking leading to an increased prevalence of dry eye disease. If you are someone who has difficulty sleeping, addressing these issues can be helpful as well.

In addition, adopting specific dietary modifications can make a significant difference. Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseed, and chia seeds, can help alleviate dry eye symptoms. 

See An Eye Doctor

If your eye pain or eye discomfort does not resolve within an hour or two of waking up you should see an eye doctor. It is important to rule out other harmful causes of eye pain before assuming that it is due to dry eye. 

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that occurs when the eyes do not produce enough tears or when the tears evaporate too quickly. Waking up with dry eyes can be frustrating and uncomfortable, but seeking professional help is crucial for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

A complete eye examination is typically the first step in diagnosing dry eye issues. The ophthalmologist will check your eye health. The eye doctor will also look at a patient’s tear production and quality. They may inquire about the patient’s medical history and any medications they are taking, as these factors can contribute to dry eye symptoms.

A variety of diagnostic tests can be performed to determine the cause and severity of the patient’s dry eye condition. One such test is the tear film break-up time measurement, which evaluates how long it takes for the tear film to evaporate or break after blinking. A shorter break-up time generally indicates a dry eye issue.

Another test involves the use of fluorescein drops. This special yellow solution helps detect damage to the cornea. In some cases, the eye doctor might also evaluate the patient’s ocular surface or measure the tear production using the Schirmer test.

Once the diagnosis has been made, the eye doctor can suggest appropriate treatments to alleviate the dry eye symptoms. These usually include the use of artificial tears, anti-inflammatory medications, or lifestyle changes, such as adjusting the patient’s environment or working habits to minimize exposure to irritants.

Dry Eyes After Waking Up: Causes and Solutions

Many individuals experience the discomfort of waking up with dry eyes, a condition that can disrupt a peaceful night’s sleep. This issue can arise due to several reasons. Chronic dry eye, often associated with symptoms like gritty eyes, watery eyes, a burning sensation, and blurry vision, is a prevalent cause. Factors such as aging and prolonged screen time, which leads to decreased blinking and tear production, exacerbate the condition. 

Another potential cause is sleeping with partially open eyes, which exposes the eye to air, drying it out. Environmental factors, such as heaters, air conditioners, low humidity, and allergens, can also contribute to morning dryness. Furthermore, inappropriate contact lens use, such as sleeping with them or over-wearing them, can lead to dryness upon waking. Treatments for this discomfort vary. 

For those who sleep with their eyes slightly open, eye masks can help. Chronic dry eye sufferers can benefit from heated eye masks, which address blockages in the meibomian glands of the eyelids. Over-the-counter eye lubricants can provide relief, and addressing underlying medical conditions, like Sjogren’s Syndrome, can mitigate symptoms. 

Lifestyle changes, such as reducing screen time, wearing glasses before bedtime, and using a humidifier, can alleviate symptoms. Diet changes, including the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, can also be beneficial. If symptoms persist, seeking advice from an eye care professional is crucial. They can provide a thorough examination, recommend diagnostic tests, and suggest appropriate treatments, ranging from artificial tears to lifestyle adjustments.


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Cope JR, Konne NM, Jacobs DS, et al. Corneal Infections Associated with Sleeping in Contact Lenses – Six Cases, United States, 2016-2018.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67(32):877-881. Published 2018 Aug 17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30114003/


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