Why do People Sleep with Their Eyes Open

You’ve probably heard stories about people sleeping with eyes open on numerous occasions. While it may seem like a horror movie scenario, it is entirely possible to sleep that way.

Sleeping with eyes open is not a matter of choice, but a reaction that occurs as a result of different causes.

The medical term for this condition is nocturnal lagophthalmos. Lagophthalmos is defined as a condition where eyes are unable to close completely.

It is usually harmless, but it can lead to uncomfortable consequences. The term refers to the inability to close eyes in general. On the other hand, keeping eyes closed during the night is called nocturnal lagophthalmos meaning it is, indeed, a proper condition and not a myth.

Symptoms of Nocturnal Lagophthalmos​​​​

Nocturnal lagophthalmos has more symptoms than sleeping with your eyes open. Learning these subtle signs and symptoms allows you to be proactive, see your doctor, and do something about it. The condition is indicated by symptoms related to the drying out of the exterior part of the eye and they include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Burning sensation
  • Feeling like something is rubbing against the eye
  • Irritation
  • Poor quality of sleep
  • Scratchiness
  • Sensitivity to light

The reason why you may experience these symptoms if sleeping with eyes open is that closing eyelids during the night covers and protects the eyeball with a thin layer of tear fluid. Your eye needs tears to maintain a moist environment that allows cells to function properly. Moisture coming from tears also eliminates debris and dust. When your eyes aren’t closed, the eyeball doesn’t receive much-needed protection and there is no moisture or tears or anything.

Causes of Nocturnal Lagophthalmos

Nothing happens without reason and nocturnal lagophthalmos is not an exception. Below you can see different causes that make you sleep with eyes open.

#1. Bell’s Pal​​​​sy

Bell’s palsy is a condition wherein the muscles on one side of the face become weak or paralyzed. The condition usually affects one side of the face causing it to droop and become stiff. Bell’s palsy happens when the seventh cranial nerve is compressed or swollen, resulting in paralysis or facial weakness.

Since one side of the face is paralyzed and it droops, then it’s possible for persons with this condition to be unable to close the eye on the affected side of the face while sleeping.

#2. Facial Nerve Paraly​​​​sis

Besides Bell's palsy, other conditions can also cause facial paralysis and make people unable to close their eyes while sleeping. Stroke is a perfect example of one such health problem. What’s more, paralysis the most common cause of lagophthalmos. Besides damage to the nerves, these conditions may also contribute to malposition of eyelids and surgery becomes the only solution to tackle this problem.

#3. Trauma or Injury

Sustaining an injury or trauma can also contribute to this condition. This happens in cases when a person sustains a blow that fractures base of the skull. Getting a punch in the jaw that fractures mandible (lower jawbone) can also cause this problem.

#4. Heredity

Although sleeping with eyes open is usually a result of some underlying health condition and trauma, it can also be a hereditary trait. If one or both parents had this condition, chances are high that you could too. Similarly to other hereditary conditions, it’s possible for nocturnal lagophthalmos to affect one gender in the family only.

#5. Moebius Syndrome

Moebius syndrome is a rare congenital neurological disorder indicated by facial paralysis or the inability to move eyes from side to side. Most patients are born with this condition and are unable to form facial expressions or close their eyes.

#6. Training Your Body to Do So

For most people sleeping with eyes closed isn’t, actually, the matter of control. You feel sleepy, eyelids feel heavy, and you fall asleep. It’s simple. That said, some people train their body to sleep with eyes open. People who have mastered meditation possess a power of self-control and they can sleep without closing their eyes.

Other Possible Causes

  • Graves’ disease and other thyroid-related problems
  • Short and weak eyelids
  • Complication of eyelid surgery
  • Infection
  • Severe skin problems like ichthyosis

Diagnosis and Management

doctor and patient

When left unmanaged, this condition can lead to complications such as eye infection, loss of vision, corneal ulcer, among others. If you sleep with eyes open, it’s useful to consult a doctor.

 Your physician might recommend the use of moisture goggles at night to moisturize your eyes. Surgery may be a viable solution for some patients. The use of eye drops is strongly recommended.

See also: Stop Snoring Aids

Final Thoughts

While sleeping with eyes open may seem like a creepy scene from a horror movie, it’s a real condition. Numerous causes can lead to this problem, but it is important to be proactive in order to avoid complications.


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