Why Do People Sleep With Their Eyes Open? How Does It Affect Your Sleep Quality?

Sleeping with one’s eyes open, a condition known as nocturnal lagophthalmos, can be caused by several factors. Let’s learn more about why people sleep with their eyes open and how it affects their sleep quality.

Nocturnal lagophthalmos, or sleeping with open eyes, can occur for various reasons. One common cause is a malfunction in the muscles responsible for closing the eyelids. These muscles, known as orbicularis oculi muscles, are essential for maintaining eye moisture and protecting the cornea. If these muscles aren’t functioning properly, the eyes may not fully close during sleep.

Consulting a medical professional to determine the underlying cause of sleeping with the eyes open is crucial. Depending on the diagnosis, treatments may include lubricating eye drops or ointments to prevent dryness, protective eye masks to help maintain moisture, and, in severe cases, surgical interventions to correct muscle issues.

Let’s first understand why people sleep with their eyes open before we move on to exploring the symptoms and treatment options associated with this condition.

Why do people sleep with their eyes open?

People generally sleep with their eyes closed, as it’s the body’s natural way of entering a state of rest and rejuvenation. However, there are cases where individuals may appear to sleep with their eyes partially open, which can be due to various reasons.

Firstly, a phenomenon called “nocturnal lagophthalmos” can cause the eyes to appear open during sleep. This occurs when the eyelids don’t completely close, leaving a small opening that may make it seem like the person is sleeping with their eyes open. This can result from weak muscles around the eyes or certain medical conditions.

Secondly, certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can cause people to have irregular sleep patterns. During sleep apnea episodes, breathing may stop and start repeatedly throughout fragmented sleep. In some cases, this can lead to a person appearing to sleep with their eyes partially open due to the disrupted sleep cycle.

Moreover, medications and substances can also impact sleep and eye closure. Some sedatives or medications can relax the muscles responsible for keeping the eyes closed, leading to a perception of sleeping with the eyes open. Similarly, alcohol and certain drugs can affect the brain’s control over the muscles, including those responsible for eye closure.

Stress and anxiety can also affect sleep quality and cause unusual sleep behaviors. People experiencing high-stress levels might have trouble fully relaxing their facial muscles during sleep, which could result in partially open eyes.

Furthermore, neurological conditions can influence eye closure during sleep. Conditions like Parkinson’s disease or certain brain injuries can affect the brain’s ability to regulate muscle movement, including the muscles responsible for closing the eyes during sleep.

It’s important to note that even if it appears someone is sleeping with their eyes open, they might be in a deep, restful sleep. In some cases, the person could be in a light stage of sleep or experiencing a form of sleep disorder that prevents them from fully entering restorative sleep cycles.

While the norm is for people to sleep with their eyes closed, various factors can lead to the appearance of sleeping with eyes partially open. These factors range from medical conditions and sleep disorders to medications, stress, and neurological issues. If you or someone you know regularly experiences this phenomenon, it’s advisable to consult a medical professional to determine the underlying cause and seek appropriate treatment.

What are the causes of sleeping with eyes open?

Sleeping with eyes open, a condition known as “nocturnal lagophthalmos,” can be caused by various factors. This phenomenon occurs when the eyelids don’t fully close during sleep, exposing the eyes partially. Several underlying reasons contribute to this unusual sleep behavior:

  • Weak eyelid muscles
  • Sleep disorders
  • Medications and substances
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Neurological conditions
  • Incomplete sleep cycles

Weak eyelid muscles:

Some individuals may have naturally weak muscles around the eyes, making it difficult for the eyelids to close completely during sleep. This weakness can result from genetics, age, or certain medical conditions. When the muscles lack the necessary strength, the eyes may appear open even though the person is asleep.

Sleep disorders:

Sleep disorders like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome can disrupt sleep patterns and influence eyelid movement. Sleep apnea, characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep, can cause micro-awakenings and muscle tension, potentially leading to partially open eyes. Similarly, restless leg syndrome’s involuntary leg movements can inadvertently affect eye closure.

Medications and substances:

Certain medications and substances can relax the muscles that keep the eyes closed. Sedatives, muscle relaxants, and alcohol can interfere with the brain’s control over the muscles, leading to partially open eyes during sleep.

Stress and anxiety:

High levels of stress and anxiety can impact sleep quality and muscle tension. When a person is under stress, they might find it challenging to fully relax their facial muscles, including those around the eyes. This tension can prevent the eyelids from closing completely.

Neurological conditions:

Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or brain injuries can disrupt the brain’s ability to regulate muscle movement. In some cases, this can affect the muscles responsible for closing the eyes during sleep, leading to partial eye-opening.

Incomplete sleep cycles:

Sleeping with eyes open might not necessarily indicate deep, restful sleep. Individuals experiencing disrupted sleep cycles or sleeping lightly might have partially open eyes. Factors like irregular sleep patterns, frequent awakenings, or sleep deprivation can contribute to this phenomenon.

What are the symptoms of sleeping with eyes open?

Sleeping with eyes open, also known as nocturnal lagophthalmos, can lead to several noticeable symptoms. While the most apparent sign is the partially exposed eye during sleep, other indicators may accompany this condition.

  • Dryness and irritation
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Eye redness
  • Eye fatigue
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Excessive tearing
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye discomfort upon waking
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Eye infections
  • Eye strain and discomfort
  • Increased risk of eye injuries
  • Worsening of existing eye conditions
  • Impact on sleep quality
  • Social awkwardness

Dryness and irritation:

When you sleep with your eyes slightly open, the natural moisture that keeps your eyes comfortable gets lost. This can lead to a dry, scratchy feeling that might make your eyes look red and gritty, making it uncomfortable to blink.

Increased sensitivity to light:

Sleeping with eyes partially open exposes them to more light than they’re used to during sleep. As a result, when you wake up, your eyes might feel extra sensitive to bright lights, causing you to squint and shield your eyes.

Eye redness:

Leaving your eyes slightly open while sleeping can expose them to air and dust, irritating them. This irritation might cause the small blood vessels in your eyes to become bigger, making your eyes look redder than usual.

Eye fatigue:

When your eyes don’t get proper rest because they’re not fully closed, they haven’t had a good stretch. This can lead to a tired, achy feeling in your eyes, making them feel like they need a break.

Foreign body sensation:

Picture this: You’ve been sleeping, but your eyes are partly open, letting in tiny bits of dust or air. Your eyes might feel like something foreign, like a pesky eyelash, causing constant irritation.

Excessive tearing:

Oddly enough, when your eyes are open during sleep, they can dry, producing extra tears. However, these tears might not help enough, resulting in irritated, watery eyes.

Blurred vision:

With your eyes partially open, they don’t get the usual protection from your eyelids, causing the surface of your eyes to dry out. This drying can temporarily blur your vision when you wake up, making things slightly fuzzy.

Eye discomfort:

If you’ve slept with your eyes open, you might wake up feeling like your eyes are sticky or hard to open. The dryness and exposure can make your eyelids “stick” to your eyes, making that first blink uncomfortable.

Difficulty sleeping:

When your eyes are bothered by discomfort from sleeping partially open, falling asleep and staying asleep can become a challenge. It’s like trying to rest when you’re not entirely comfortable.

Eye infections:

Leaving your eyes slightly open during sleep exposes them to the outside world. This can allow bacteria and dust to enter your eyes, potentially causing infections that might lead to redness, irritation, and other eye troubles.

Eye strain and discomfort:

Sleeping with your eyes open can strain the muscles around your eyes. Just like holding a position for a long time can make your muscles ache, keeping your eyes partially open for hours can lead to discomfort and strain.

Increased risk of eye injuries:

Open eyes are more vulnerable to accidental bumps and pokes, especially if you move around in your sleep. This increases the chances of minor injuries, like accidentally scratching the surface of your eye.

Worsening of existing eye conditions:

If you have conditions like dry eye syndrome, sleeping with your eyes open can make them worse. The lack of moisture and reduced blinking can aggravate these conditions and cause more discomfort.

Impact on sleep quality:

When your eyes aren’t getting the rest they need, it can affect your sleep quality. You might wake up more frequently or not feel as refreshed in the morning as you should.

Social awkwardness:

Sleeping with open eyes can look unusual to others, leading to questions or misunderstandings. It might even cause you to feel self-conscious about your sleep behavior.

How does it affect your sleep quality?

Sleeping with eyes open can have significant impacts on the quality of your sleep. This phenomenon, known as nocturnal lagophthalmos, affects various aspects of your rest, leading to potential sleep disturbances and discomfort. Here’s how:

  • Disrupted blinking mechanism
  • Reduced tear production
  • Eye strain and fatigue
  • Increased light sensitivity
  • Discomfort and restlessness
  • Fragmented sleep
  • Increased risk of eye infections
  • Impact on rapid eye movement sleep
  • Difficulty achieving deep sleep
  • Impaired sleep quality
  • Disrupted tear distribution
  • Vulnerability to environmental factors
  • Corneal health compromised
  • Fragmented sleep patterns
  • Impact on dream recall
  • Impaired daily functioning
  • Mental and emotional impact

Disrupted blinking mechanism:

When your eyes are partially open during sleep, the normal blinking that keeps your eyes moisturized and protected is disrupted. This can lead to dryness and irritation, making it uncomfortable to keep your eyes closed.

Reduced tear production:

Blinking helps spread tears over the surface of your eyes, keeping them moist. With your eyes partially open, this natural process is hindered, causing reduced tear production and dry eyes.

Eye strain and fatigue:

The lack of proper closure strains the muscles around your eyes. This strain can contribute to eye fatigue and discomfort, making it challenging to relax during sleep.

Increased light sensitivity:

Exposing your eyes to light during sleep can make them more sensitive to light upon waking up. As a result, when you wake up, your eyes might be more sensitive to light. This sensitivity can lead to discomfort and squinting in bright environments.

Discomfort and restlessness:

The discomfort caused by partially open eyes can make you restless during sleep. You might unconsciously shift positions to find relief, disrupting your sleep.

Fragmented sleep:

The discomfort and irritation from open eyes can cause micro-awakenings throughout the night. These brief awakenings can disrupt your sleep cycle, preventing you from experiencing uninterrupted deep sleep.

Increased risk of eye infections:

Leaving your eyes open during sleep exposes them to the environment, including dust and bacteria. This increases the risk of eye infections, leading to redness, irritation, and potential health complications.

Impact on rapid eye movement sleep:

REM sleep is crucial for memory consolidation and emotional well-being. Sleeping with eyes open can interfere with this stage of sleep, potentially affecting your cognitive function and mood regulation.

Difficulty achieving deep sleep:

Deep sleep is essential for physical restoration and feeling refreshed. The discomfort from partially open eyes can prevent you from fully relaxing, making it harder to enter deep sleep stages.

Impaired sleep quality:

All these effects combined can result in an overall reduction in sleep quality. You might wake up groggy, irritable, and not as well-rested as you should be.

Disrupted tear distribution:

When your eyes are partially open, tears aren’t distributed as effectively across your eye’s surface. This can lead to dry spots and discomfort, affecting your ability to stay in restful sleep.

Vulnerability to environmental factors:

Partially open eyes expose your eyes to the surrounding environment, making them more susceptible to dust, allergens, and other irritants. This exposure can trigger discomfort and make it harder to maintain uninterrupted sleep.

Corneal health compromised:

Insufficient eye closure can affect the health of your cornea, the clear front surface of the eye. The lack of proper protection can lead to irritation, inflammation, and potential long-term damage.

Fragmented sleep patterns:

The discomfort caused by sleeping with eyes open can lead to micro-awakenings throughout the night. These brief awakenings disrupt your sleep cycle, preventing you from entering deeper stages of sleep.

Impact on dream recall:

Dreams often occur during the rapid eye movement phase of sleep. Partial eye exposure can disrupt REM sleep, impacting your ability to remember dreams vividly.

Impaired daily functioning:

Consistently experiencing poor sleep quality due to partially open eyes can lead to daytime fatigue, affecting your ability to perform daily tasks effectively and stay alert.

Mental and emotional impact:

Poor sleep quality due to open eyes can contribute to mood swings, irritability, and difficulty concentrating during the day. The emotional toll can be considerable.

What are the treatment options for sleeping with eyes open?

Sleeping with eyes open or nocturnal lagophthalmos, can be addressed with various treatment approaches. These options aim to alleviate discomfort, improve eye health, and enhance sleep quality. Here’s a closer look at the available treatments:

  • Artificial tears and lubricants
  • Eye ointments
  • Moisture chamber goggles
  • Eyelid tape or adhesive strips
  • Eyelid weights
  • Humidifiers
  • Addressing underlying conditions
  • Behavioral changes
  • Medical interventions
  • Consultation with eye care professionals

Artificial tears and lubricants:

Artificial tears or lubricating eye drops can help moisten the eyes and alleviate dryness. These drops provide a protective layer and can be especially helpful for those experiencing discomfort due to open eyes.

Eye ointments:

Prescribed or over-the-counter eye ointments can provide longer-lasting lubrication during sleep. These ointments create a thicker barrier, preventing the eyes from drying out.

Moisture chamber goggles:

Special moisture chamber goggles or shields are designed to create a barrier that prevents excessive tear evaporation. These goggles help maintain a more humid environment around the eyes and are particularly useful for severe cases of nocturnal lagophthalmos.

Eyelid tape or adhesive strips:

Taping the eyelids partially closed with specialized eyelid tape or adhesive strips can promote proper eye closure during sleep. These products are safe and can provide temporary relief from open eyes.

Eyelid weights:

Eyelid weight can be placed on the upper eyelids to encourage proper closure. They help overcome muscle weakness, contributing to sleep with eyes open.


Using a humidifier in your bedroom can increase the overall humidity, preventing the eyes from drying out during sleep. This can be particularly helpful in dry climates.

Addressing underlying conditions:

In cases where medical conditions like sleep apnea or facial nerve disorders contribute to open eyes during sleep, addressing the underlying condition can improve sleep quality and eye closure.

Behavioral changes:

Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, using supportive pillows, and creating a comfortable sleep environment, can help minimize discomfort and promote better eye closure.

Medical interventions:

Medical interventions like botulinum toxin injections (Botox) can be considered in severe cases. These injections can help weaken certain muscles around the eyes, facilitating eyelid closure.

Consultation with eye care professionals:

If you’re experiencing sleeping with eyes open regularly, consulting an eye care professional is essential. They can diagnose the underlying cause, recommend appropriate treatments, and provide personalized guidance for managing the condition.


Sleeping with eyes open can pose various challenges to sleep quality and eye health. This phenomenon, where the eyelids don’t fully close during rest, can lead to discomfort, dryness, and a range of related symptoms. From the sensation of having foreign objects in the eyes to increased light sensitivity, the effects of open eyes during sleep can have a noticeable impact on overall well-being.

Addressing nocturnal lagophthalmos involves exploring a range of treatment options. From using artificial tears and eyelid tape to considering medical interventions, the goal is to restore proper eye closure during sleep, alleviate discomfort, and enhance sleep quality. Also, maintaining good sleep hygiene practices and consulting with eye care professionals are integral in managing the condition effectively.