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Why Do I Wake Up with Dry Eyes?

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A young woman sitting in bed rubbing her eyes with her right hand.

You’ve just had a wonderful, restful sleep but when you open your eyes, you’re met with a familiar itchy feeling. You’ve just started your day with dry eyes. 

Dry eyes are unpleasant at the best of times, let alone when you first start your day. You could wake up with dry eyes for many reasons such as a decreased blink rate while you sleep or your eyelids not completely closing overnight.

Waking up with dry eyes may not be more than an occasional minor nuisance, but you should see your eye doctor if it persists. They can examine your eyes to determine whether you have dry eye disease, which could put you at a higher risk of waking up with dry, itchy eyes. Your eye doctor can also offer you a tailored plan to give you a better start to your mornings.

Dry Eyes in the Morning

Before we tackle solutions, it’s crucial to understand the nature of this discomfort. 

Our eyes naturally produce tears, a complex concoction of water, oils, mucus, and special proteins, designed to keep the eye lubricated and help maintain clear vision and comfort. 

Our blinking, which typically helps to spread protective fluids, dramatically reduces while we sleep. This reduced blink rate—commonly associated with computer use—can exacerbate dry eye symptoms, which can lead to that dreaded morning dryness.

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos Causing Dry Eyes

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos is the inability to close one’s eyelids completely during sleep. Beneath the eyelids lie different muscles that help open and close them. But a subtle defect in the mechanisms—nerve damage or a structural anomaly—can render these muscles inept, exposing the eyes throughout the night.

Non-Invasive Treatment

The first steps in addressing nocturnal lagophthalmos rely on the soft touch of non-invasive therapies. Eyelid hygiene, the application of lubricants, and the strategic use of moisture goggles offer the grace of management without the weight of aggressive intervention.

Surgical Treatment

Surgical approaches may be necessary when the condition is too persistent for subtler interventions. Surgical options include:

  • Tarsorrhaphy
  • Weight implants
  • Upper or lower eyelid surgery
  • Facial surgery

Practical Solutions for a Comfortable Start to Your Morning

Like most eye conditions, prevention and early interventions are key. For morning dry eyes, a few changes to your nightly routine can make all the difference.

Sleep Environment Tweaks

Begin by adjusting the ambient conditions in your sleeping space. Use a humidifier to control the dryness of the air. Make sure your room is clean and free of dust and other irritants. Wash bedding regularly to minimize allergens or other irritants as you sleep.

Optimize Your Eye Health

Switching to a more breathable silicone hydrogel lens can aid in maintaining moisture in your eyes if you wear contact lenses. Regular use of artificial tears, particularly thicker drops or gels before bed can serve as a protective buffer the body can utilize throughout the night for those without corrective lenses.

A man in an optometry clinic shaking hands with his female optometrist

Daily Habits for Healthier Eyes

The quest for comfortable waking eyes can’t be limited to our sleeping hours—our entire lifestyle needs to be factored in.

Eye-Healthy Lifestyle Choices

A balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and staying hydrated can contribute to better eye health. Consider foods like salmon, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, which contain these beneficial fatty acids.

Taking regular breaks from screen usage can also contribute to more comfortable eyes. Try adhering to the 20-20-20 rule: looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes to help your eyes reset from concentrated screen usage.

Seek Professional Advice

Routine eye exams can often catch signs of developing dryness before they manifest in discomfort. Discuss any concerns you have about your eyes with your eye doctor and be open to their suggestions and treatments. Dry eyes can be managed effectively, but the first step is always understanding the condition and its triggers.

This ability to head off dry eyes before they become a problem highlights the importance of following the Canadian Optometrist Association’s recommendations for an eye exam every 1 to 2 years for most people. Ultimately, it’s wise to follow your eye doctor’s suggestions as they know your history and can tailor treatment for your unique situation.

Don’t Let Dry Eyes Ruin Your Day

The discomfort of waking up with dry eyes reminds us that our ocular health is intertwined with our daily choices and routines. We can have a more comfortable start to our day by educating ourselves on the causes and effects of morning dry eyes, as well as implementing practical solutions and healthy habits.

Call our team at The Eye Care Centre to book an appointment today if you’re dealing with persistent dry eye symptoms in the morning—or any time throughout the day. We have 3 locations in Red Deer, Rimbey, and Rocky Mountain House to serve you better.

Written by Dr. Daryl Berger

Dr. Berger was born and raised in Red Deer. After studying at Red Deer College and the U of A, he graduated with honours from the optometry program at Waterloo in 2007. Daryl enjoys music, cars, biking, hiking, snowboarding and travel. He and his wife, Pamela, have twin boys and a dog named Gus.
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