Nocturnal Lagophthalmos or Sleeping With the Eyes Open

It may be odd, but did you know that there are a lot of people sleeping with their eyes open? It is surprisingly common. However, people who sleep with their eyes open are vulnerable to severe eye problems such as dry eyes, infections, and eye injury.

Sleeping with the eyes open is medically known as nocturnal lagophthalmos. Nearly 20 percent of the population is affected. The condition usually occurs because of facial nerves or muscle problems that cannot keep the eyes fully closed. It can also be caused by problems with the skin around the eyelids.

What Are the Complications of Nocturnal Lagophthalmos?

Nocturnal lagophthalmos means sleeping with the eyes open. People who often sleep with their eyes open are susceptible to eye infections, dry eyes, and other eye damage and scratches.

The complications may include:

  • blurred vision
  • redness
  • eye infections
  • itchy eyes
  • irritation or a burning sensation
  • light sensitivity
  • eye injury
  • poor sleep quality
  • the feeling of a foreign object in the eye
  • corneal ulcer
  • exposure keratopathy

What Causes Nocturnal Lagophthalmos?

Nocturnal lagophthalmos is the result of the inability of the facial muscles, nerves, or skin around the eyelids to control the eye muscles and keep it closed.

Orbicularis oculi are the paralysis or the weakening of the eye muscle responsible for closing the eyelids. Medical conditions that may cause muscle paralysis or weakness of the facial nerves include:

  • brain tumor
  • Bell’s palsy
  • stroke
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • Moebius syndrome

Eye damage caused by trauma, surgery, and infections like leprosy, mumps, and Lyme disease can also result in paralysis of the facial muscles and nerves. Though it is rare, people with Graves’ ophthalmopathy and very thick eyelashes may also experience nocturnal lagophthalmos.

How to Treat Nocturnal Lagophthalmos?

Most people do not realize that they are sleeping with their eyes open until someone tells them so. It is important to be aware of this condition to be able to treat it properly.

Your eye doctor may prescribe eye drops, ophthalmic ointments, artificial tears, and moisture goggles to prevent scratches and to keep the eye moisturized. External eyelid weight and surgical tape can also be attached to the surface of the upper eyelids to keep them close.

For severe cases, surgery may be required wherein a gold surgical implant is inserted into the eyelid as a permanent eyelid weight to keep the eyes closed.

Does Nocturnal Lagophthalmos Affect Sleep Quality?

If left untreated, nocturnal lagophthalmos can reduce sleep quality. The pain and discomfort associated with the condition can deprive a person of sleep. If you suspect you have nocturnal lagophthalmos, you should visit your doctor immediately to find the appropriate treatment.

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