Dry eye syndrome at any hour is unwelcome. But when it happens while sleeping, it not only comes with that classic grittiness and irritation, but also makes your mornings far worse and gives you a bad start to the day.

While age, medications, and hormonal changes may be to blame, nighttime dry eyes is more complicated than just that. It may be stemming from other conditions, like sleep disorders and poor sleep quality.

In this post, we’ll take a deeper look at what causes dry eyes while sleeping. We also offer you the best dry eye remedies so you can reclaim your nights.

Causes of Dry Eye While Sleeping

From nocturnal lagophthalmos to screen time before bed, here’s what causes dry eyes at night. These causes may help you narrow down the culprit behind your condition.

1. Nocturnal Lagophthalmos

Nocturnal lagophthalmos is an eyelid condition and one of the major causes of why your eyes dry out while sleeping. If you have this condition, your eyelids do not fully close during sleep.

Partially closed lids mean that your tear film is exposed to the air all night long. This leads to increased tear evaporation, making your eyes feel dry and sandy when you wake up.

Nocturnal lagophthalmos is caused by factors like anatomical abnormalities and eyelid weakness. But since it occurs during sleep, you may not be aware of the condition.

If you suspect you have nocturnal lagophthalmos, it’s best to consult with your eye doctor.

2. Sleep Disorders

Although sleep-related disorders are often overlooked, research shows that they are prominent in people with dry eye syndrome. Anything from poor sleep, insomnia, short sleep duration, and long sleep latency can be to blame for this.

woman buttoning her phone in bed at night unable to fall asleep with nightstand orange glowlight next to her

So, who is at risk of suffering from sleep disorders?

People with anxiety, depression, sleep apnea, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular issues. Also, women are at a higher risk of sleep disorders than men.

3. Screen Time Before Bedtime

Excessive screen time during the day is bad enough. Add to this a few mindless hours of scrolling through your smartphone before bedtime and there’s no saving you from severe dry eyes at night.

Digital screens reduce your blink rate. They also emit blue light, suppressing the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. The combination of reduced blinking and sleep disruptions can make your eyes dry, tired, and irritated.

4. Poor Sleep Quality

A large-scale study shows a direct link between dry eyes and sleep quality. The study involved over seventy thousand participants aged between 19 to 94 years.

The researchers observed that about 9% of participants suffered from dry eyes. Of these, a whopping 36% complained of poor sleep quality. But how exactly does sleep quality cause dry eyes?

Poor sleep affects tear secretion and tear film stability. It also aggravates anxiety and depression, worsening your dry eye symptoms. The bottom line is that lack of sleep can affect your eyesight.

5. Use of Contact Lens

Extended use of contact lenses during the day comes with a certain price. The lenses absorb your tears to maintain their shape. They also limit the amount of oxygen reaching your cornea and alter your tear film stability.

closeup of unused contact lenses in original packaging with lens solution and pair of eyeglasses against light blue background

No wonder why your eyes feel dried out when you remove your lenses by the end of the day. Not to mention the accumulation of debris that might cause irritation and inflammation.

Tip: Can't do without contact lenses? Check our post on how to choose contact lenses for dry eyes.

6. Low Humidity Levels

Another cause of dry eyes at night is low humidity in your bedroom. Your tear film is a delicate balance of water, oils, and mucus. Together, these layers keep your tears from evaporating too quickly.

When you’re exposed to dry air and low humidity, your tear film is disrupted, leading to increased evaporation of tears. The symptoms will be especially pronounced during the winter nights when heating systems are running.

Remedies for Dry Eye While Sleeping

Eye irritation, pain, and swelling are some of the most common dry eyes while sleeping symptoms. The good news is that these are easily manageable.

Home remedies like applying a warm compress and using eyelid scrubs can work wonders for you. Read about these and other ways to combat dry eye at night while sleeping.

1. Apply a Warm Compress

Applying a warm washcloth is one of the best remedies for dry eyes during sleep. The warmth from the compress will stimulate your oil-producing meibomian glands. It will also help unclog any blocked oil glands.

This will promote better oil flow and increase tear retention. You will also find immediate relief from soreness and inflammation. This remedy is also effective for dry eyes while sleeping after LASIK, as the procedure can cause temporary dryness.

Tip: Be cautious not to use a compress that’s too hot. Excessive heat can damage the delicate eye tissues.

2. Use Eyelid Scrubs

Eyelid scrubs can also come in handy to prevent dry eyes when sleeping on your back. Especially when your dry eye symptoms are associated with blepharitis (flaky eyelids) or meibomian gland dysfunction.

Lid scrubs will remove debris, bacteria, and excess oils that worsen dry eye symptoms. They will also improve your tear film stability, keeping your eyes well-lubricated day and night.

You can use a clean cotton pad and some mild cleanser to scrub your eyelids. Performed before bedtime, this simple procedure can offer great relief from nighttime dry eyes.

3. Improve Humidity Levels

Dry indoor air, especially during winter, can cause your tear film to evaporate more quickly. You can combat this by simply adding moisture to the air with a humidifier.

woman in white shirt setting up large room humidifier at home

If you have dry eyes only while sleeping, place your humidifier in your bedroom to ease your symptoms. Aim for a relative humidity of around 40% to 50%. Humidity levels that are too high can create other issues, like mold growth.

4. Focus on Your Diet

Many dry eye cases are the result of an inflammatory diet according to a 2020 survey. On the other hand, higher consumption of vegetables and fibers is correlated with a lower risk of dry eyes.

To prevent dry eyes while sleeping, you can start consuming anti-inflammatory diets, like the Mediterranean diet. Focus on essential vitamins for eye health like A, C, and E, and consume lots of omega-3 fatty acids for overall eye health.

An eye health supplement may also help with dry eyes while sleeping. Natural supplements like Blueberry Gummies and SightC provide antioxidants and other essential nutrients your eyes need.

Made from superfoods like blueberries, these are easy to take at home, at work, and when you travel. Try them out.

5. Stay Well Hydrated

Your tear film is mostly composed of water. Proper hydration ensures that your body has enough water to produce an adequate amount of tears. Research shows that dehydration may cause dry eyes.

young woman drinking water from a glass against white background

For proper hydration, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day - Keep a glass in sight and drink water whenever you start to feel thirsty.
  • Eat water-rich foods - Watermelon, cucumber, oranges, and celery have high water content and will keep you hydrated.
  • Limit dehydrating beverages - Reduce your intake of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages as they contribute to dehydration.

6. Unplug from Electronics

The final preventive tip for dry eyes is staying away from digital devices before bedtime. This will limit blue light exposure, prevent digital eye strain, and keep your eyes feeling well-lubricated before you sleep.

Make it a rule to disconnect from all devices at least an hour before bedtime. Also, you want to lower your screen brightness and use night mode, especially in the evening.

Take the Dry Eye Test

Do your eyes feel dry and gritty in the morning? You may have developed dry eye disease.

Even if your symptoms are only mild, it's best not to ignore them. Over time, mild dry eye disease can become more severe.

The first step to addressing your symptoms is taking a dry eye test. Our online test is quick and easy to take.

Take the dry eye test now.

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