Dry eyes can be irritating at any time of day. But many people experience particularly itchy and gritty eyes during nighttime. This can make falling asleep quite difficult. And you may even wake up with swollen and irritated eyes.

According to the Journal of Current Ophthalmology, most dry eye symptoms are significantly aggravated after nighttime. The most common causes for this include nocturnal lagophthalmos, prolonged contact lens use during the day, and excessive screen time.

Read on to learn more about the causes and treatments of dry eyes at night.

Causes of Dry Eyes at Night

At night, your metabolism and blood flow slow down, and nutrients reach your body more slowly. The eyes need plenty of nutrients to make healthy tears, which could explain why dry eyes feel worse at night for some people.

With that in mind, there are several reasons why you may get dry eyes at night only, from accumulating screen time to dehydration and nutritional deficiencies.

  • Nocturnal lagophthalmos – This is a muscle and nerve-related condition. It causes weakened eyelids that are not able to fully close at night. As a result, the eyes feel dry all day long, and especially during nighttime.
  • Contact lenses – If you wear contact lenses for more than a few hours every day, you may experience itchy, red, and dry eyes at the end of the day. That’s because contact lenses can partially block oxygen from entering your eye. Learn more about managing dry eyes while wearing contact lenses.
  • Screen time – Spending a few hours in front of your computer and smartphone can also make your eyes get dry at night. Screens not only cause eye strain but also reduce your blink rate. Find out how much screen time is too much.
  • Age – According to Medical News Today, it becomes harder to produce tears as you age. This is most common in people over the age of 65. Since most people tend to be less active later in the day, they may notice more easily that they have dry eyes at night.
  • Hormonal changes Women are more prone to dry eyes. Hormonal changes, like pregnancy and menopause, can affect your tear production. You may even experience dry eyes if you’re taking birth control pills.
pregnant woman in white dress holding red baby shoes
  • Medications – Certain medicines reduce tear production, too. You may especially experience dryness at night if you’re taking antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medicines, and antidepressants.
  • Certain health conditions – Medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and thyroid can cause symptoms of dry eyes. Other chronic conditions, like Sjogren’s disease (immune system disorder), and blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid), can increase the risk of dry eyes.
  • Environmental factors – Exposure to smoke, wind, pollution, allergens, and dry air can increase tear evaporation. If you are exposed to one or more of these conditions, your eyes will feel drier by the end of the day.
  • Eye surgeries – Refractive error surgeries like LASIK, photorefractive keratectomy, and intracorneal ring can also cause dry eyes. The dryness usually peaks in the first few months and begins to improve after 6 to 12 months. Learn more about dry eyes after eye surgery.
  • Dehydration – Dry eyes during sleep can also occur due to dehydration. Your tear film is mostly composed of water. If you don’t drink enough water during the day, the watery layer of the tear film may be affected and lead to dry eyes at night.
  • Nutritional deficiencies Vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids support tear production. If your diet is deficient in these nutrients, you are more likely to experience dry eyes at night.

Worried that you may have dry eyes? 

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Treatment for Dry Eyes at Night

Dryness in the eye can leave a stinging or burning sensation in and around your eye. But you don’t have to sit back and put up with the symptoms.

You can take steps to reduce the dryness with home remedies such as applying a warm compress and using castor oil drops.

Here are the most common treatments for dry eyes at night.

macro of human eye looking at the viewer

Use Artificial Tears

Artificial tears don’t cure the underlying causes of dry eyes but may provide relief from symptoms. Apply them throughout the day or as directed by your doctor.

Nighttime eye drops will help keep the surface of your eye moisturized. However, you want to avoid artificial tears with preservatives, which can make dry eyes worse over time.

Use Ointment or Tear Gels

These decrease tear evaporation, maintain moisture in the eyes, and offer longer relief than eye drops. You can also use castor oil as a substitute. But you may experience blurry vision for some time. Apply only a small amount at night or as directed by your doctor.

Apply Warm Compresses

If you have inflamed and flaky eyelids, you can also apply a warm washcloth to reduce nighttime dry eye symptoms. It will help loosen up the clogged oils in your eyelid and lower inflammation. Here's how to make a warm compress for dry eyes.

Use Punctal Plugs

A punctal plug is a silicon plug or gel placed in your tear ducts. It blocks the tear ducts to keep natural tears in your eyes for longer. If your dry eye symptoms are severe, you may want to discuss this treatment option with your eye doctor.

Make Lifestyle Changes

Your lifestyle, such as too much screen time and smoking, can also cause dryness in your eye. Make sure to blink more often while using your computer. Get up every 20 to 30 minutes to relax your eyes. 

If you smoke, try to quit or at least to smoke less.

smoking not allowed sign hung over green forested staircase path

Pay Attention to Your Diet

A diet rich in vitamins and nutrients will improve your eye health. If nutritional deficiencies make your dry eyes worse, a healthy diet can help you treat the condition better than treatments that provide only symptom relief, such as artificial tears.

Eat fish and other seafood for a healthy supply of omega-3 fatty acids. For vitamin A, eat cereals and leafy greens.

Stay Hydrated

Your eyes need water to produce tears. So, keep yourself hydrated throughout the day. Drink at least eight glasses of water to see the difference.

Take an Eye Health Supplement

A vision health supplement like SightC can provide your eyes with key nutrients and antioxidants. It can help improve the quality of the tear film and keep your eyes healthy. While not a substitute for healthy eating habits, it can make taking in the right nutrients easier.

Managing Dry Eyes at Night

Dry eyes at night may not seem like a serious condition at first. But it can make your nights as well as days less pleasant. You may end up having itchy, gritty, and inflamed eyes constantly.

Get enough rest, stay hydrated, and eat a balanced diet with an added dose of vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids.

You should also stay away from polluted or dry environments if possible. Also, avoid having fans or heaters blowing air into your eyes. Use a humidifier in your room to keep the air moist.

Change your bedding regularly to reduce allergen and dust exposure. And finally, limit your screen time and switch from contact lenses to glasses.

Make room for these changes into your everyday habits and your eyes will begin to feel less dry.

November 28, 2022 — Vincent Andrew

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