You must have heard the saying “to sleep with one eye open.” This is usually a metaphor used to advise someone to stay vigilant.
But what if someone tells you that you actually sleep with your eyes open?
In medical terms, sleeping with the eyes open is known as ‘nocturnal lagophthalmos’.
Since this condition is a problem of the eyelids, it can also occur when you sleep during the daytime in which case it is referred to as ‘lagophthalmos’.
Why do we close our eyes to sleep?
This question might have crossed your mind but you did not bother to find an answer for the same. Well, there are multiple reasons why we close our eyes to sleep in the first place.
Open eyelids stimulate the brain to stay awake. There is a light-sensitive protein in the cells of the retina which transmits information to the brain to stay awake when exposed to light. Closed eyelids block the external light from being absorbed by the eyes, thereby preventing such an impact on the brain.
Also, keeping the eyes closed while sleeping allows the body to protect and hydrate the eyes while we rest. While we stay awake we blink frequently to keep our eyes lubricated and protect them from environmental damage. It is not possible to protect our eyes while sleeping if we keep them open.
So, to buffer against such stimulation and damage and to prevent the eyes from drying out we keep our eyes closed while sleeping.
What causes you to sleep with your eyes open?
Several reasons contribute to such an eye and sleep disorder. This includes –
Muscle and nerve problem
When there are some issues with the facial muscles and nerves around the eyelid, it may remain partially open during sleep. The weakness in the nerves can occur due to several reasons such as –
- Trauma and injury
- Moebius syndrome, which is a rare disorder of the cranial nerves.
- Bell’s palsy can lead to temporary weakness or paralysis of the facial nerves.
- Autoimmune disease and infections like Guillian-Barre syndrome, Lyme disease, mumps, and chickenpox.
Thyroid-related eye symptoms
Graves’ disease is a form of overactive thyroid or Hyperthyroidism that show up bulging eyes as a common symptom. The protruding eyes occurring from such a disease can interfere with your ability to close the eyes while sleeping.
Damage to the eyelids
Some people have damaged eyelids resulting from injury, illness, or surgery can make it difficult to close the eyelids while sleeping.
The floppy eyelid syndrome is among the common types of eyelid damage that can create problems while closing the eyes.
Also, Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA linked to several eye disorders like optic neuropathy and glaucoma can result in keeping your eyes open during sleep.
There is also a genetic component to such a problem as it is commonly observed among people with a family history of nocturnal lagophthalmos.
Tips to sleep with your eyes open
While it is possible to sleep with your eyes open it is not recommended as a long-term practice. Also, don’t expect to fall into a deep slumber when sleeping with your eyes open. However, with practice, you will be able to doze off for some time without letting anyone know.
Rest your back on a chair and relax your body, mind, and soul. Start with your feet and work your way up to the legs, hips, hands, shoulders, and finally the head. Make sure not to move any of your body parts during the process. Release the tension from your muscles and just let go.
2: Take deep breaths
Although it might sound like a cliché, following proper deep breathing techniques can contribute significantly to the relaxation process. Complete relaxation is the key to falling asleep with your eyes open.
To help you start with the process inhale slowly for five seconds and then exhale for another five seconds. Once you get hold of the rhythm you will start to fall into a deeper state of relaxation.
You must have realized at times that you stare at a distant spot without moving your eyes as you feel more comfortable. Although most of the time you do it subconsciously you need to perform this act consciously to help you achieve what you desire.
If you are in a public place such as an office or a classroom, focus on a spot in front of you. Keep staring at that spot for about 10 minutes without looking elsewhere. But make sure not to stare at any light source as it might affect your eyes.
4: Clear your mind
This is the final step to falling asleep with open eyes. Start thinking about a memorable experience that makes you happy. It can be either past experience or any upcoming event that you are excited about.
Let your imagination set free instead of forcing your mind to fall asleep. Easy does the job. Fill your mind with positive thoughts as you slowly drop off to slumber.
5: Keep practicing
There is a saying that “practice makes a man perfect.” This holds for every activity that you do, be it physical or mental. Don’t get demotivated if you are not successful at the first attempt. For the initial few attempts, you may fail but gradually you will start realizing it coming to shape.
Is it bad for your health?
You must be excited to try it out today. But wait! Have you ever thought that practicing such a habit can have an adverse impact on your health? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. For people with nocturnal lagophthalmos, the eyes lose the protection of a closed eyelid making them dry and exposed to external threats. This can lead to –
- Injury, including scratches to the eyes
- Eye infection like glaucoma
- Loss of vision
- Damage to the cornea including ulcers and sores
- Light entering through to the eyes can prevent restful and deep sleep.
One major problem associated with nocturnal lagophthalmos is that most people are unaware of such a problem. Understandably, it is not possible for a person to know if his eyes are open when they are fast asleep.
Some of the symptoms indicating towards such an occurrence include –
- Irritated, dry, and scratch eyes after waking up.
- Red eyes
- Blurry vision
- A tired feel to the eyes
- Eye pain
If such a problem is left untreated it can lead to impaired vision including corneal damage and eye infection. Consult a doctor to find out the possible treatment options to correct such sleeping related disorder.
Should you consult a doctor?
If you suspect having nocturnal lagophthalmos consult a doctor. The doctor could inquire about any recent illness or trauma that might be the cause of such an occurrence. He will also observe any symptoms like the twitching of the eyes to identify any eye problem.
Some of the tests that the doctor will conduct during such process include –
- Measuring the amount of force applied to close the eyes while blinking.
- Conducting a slit lamp exam on the eyes using a bright light and a microscope.
- Measuring the space between the eyelids.
- A fluorescein eye stain test to detect any damage to the eyes.
What are the available treatment options?
Depending on the underlying conditions and the severity of the symptoms, the doctor may prescribe various treatment options including –
- Using artificial tears throughout the day to help develop a strong film of moisture around the eyes.
- Wearing eye masks to protect the eyes from damage and stimulation. Some goggles are specifically designed to generate moisture for the eyes while sleeping.
- Using a humidifier inside the bedroom can prevent the eyes from drying out while helping you to sleep in a moisture-rich environment.
- Sometimes eyelid weights are recommended to be taped over the external part of the upper eyelids that help keep the eyes shut while sleeping.
- In rare severe cases, a gold surgical implant is recommended to help keep the eyes closed while sleeping.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Though sleeping with open eyes is considered as hereditary most children are known to gradually outgrow such a habit. A research study on nocturnal lagophthalmos revealed that 5 out of 102 cases had a genetic history.
No. Sleeping with your eyes closed is a basic human instinct. So, if you sleep with your eyes open it may lead to dryness, itching, or irritation to the eyes. This may interfere with your sleep and result in sleep disruptions.
Unless someone tells you or you video record your sleeping, you won’t know that your eyes were open while sleeping. So, you won’t experience any feeling while sleeping with open eyes. However, the associated symptoms such as pain, eye redness, and blurry vision may indicate such an eye-related disorder.
A Final Word of Advice
Sleeping with your eyes open can surely help you to sustain boring lectures and long meetings but it has its long-term consequences. However, there is nothing to be afraid of if you sleep with your eyes open at night. Consult a doctor to get it treated on time so that you do not encounter any complications later on. Simple treatment options like eye drops, air humidifiers, and eyelid weights during the initial stages can prevent any significant damage to your eyes.
Don’t let your sleep-related eye symptoms go unaddressed. Ensure a restful and deep night’s sleep.