You may be surprised to learn that some people SLEEP with their eyes open. And it's more common than you might expect. About 20 per cent of people do, including babies. Doctors call this condition nocturnal lagophthalmos.
If you have it, you can usually close your eyes most of the time when you sleep, but not all of the time. In addition, a condition known as droopy eyelid syndrome can also interfere with eye closure, and is often associated with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). Studies have found that people who suffer from nocturnal lagophthalmos have poor sleep quality, probably due to discomfort. Because the eyelids help lubricate the surface of the eyes, the eyes begin to dry out considerably.
Problems with the facial nerves and muscles around the eyelid can prevent the eyelid from closing during sleep. If the eyelids do not close, the eyes become more susceptible to dryness, infection and debris that can scratch and damage the cornea. Even if another person watches you sleep, very small eyelid openings can be hidden by eyelashes and go unnoticed. Simple remedies such as some of the above can effectively solve the problem and help you sleep better.
At night, closed eyes act as a buffer against stimulation and damage, and prevent the eyes from drying out. The bulging eyes associated with Graves' disease are a condition known as Graves' ophthalmopathy, and can interfere with the ability to close your eyes during sleep. Obviously, unless you record yourself sleeping, you will not realise that you are sleeping with your eyes open until you experience symptoms. If you are diagnosed with nocturnal lagophthalmos, you may want to make adjustments to your sleep environment to counteract its effects.
It may sound strange, but nocturnal lagophthalmos is actually considered a form of facial paralysis; it affects the orbicularis oculi muscle of the eyelid and can be temporary or permanent. But nocturnal lagophthalmos can cause problems with both sleep and eye health, and is often a sign of an underlying medical condition. If other treatments don't work, you may benefit from surgery to expand your eyelids so that they close completely when you sleep. For this reason, it may be surprising to learn that some people sleep with their eyes partially or fully open.
Since nocturnal lagophthalmos can significantly affect both sleep quality and eye health, it is beneficial to know the signs of this condition and how to treat it.