A Closer Look at the Phenomenon of Sleeping with Eyes Open

Written by Dr. Kirilyuk Inna Anatolyivna on Wed, 21 February 2024

Key Highlights

  • Sleeping with eyes open, known as nocturnal lagophthalmos, is a unique sleep behavior.
  • From facial nerve conditions to environmental factors, various reasons contribute to this phenomenon.
  • Complications include dry eyes, exposure to irritants, and social discomfort.
  • For those experiencing open-eyed slumber, seeking medical guidance is crucial to understanding and managing this sleep behavior.
  • Practical steps like using eye drops and adjusting the sleep environment can enhance the comfort and quality of sleep.

Have you ever heard about the peculiar occurrence of sleeping with eyes open? It might sound like something out of a horror movie, but it is a real phenomenon that can happen to some individuals.

Sleeping with eyes open, technically known as nocturnal lagophthalmos, is not something experienced by everyone. It is considered quite rare, with only a small percentage of the population affected by this unusual sleep behavior. However, for those who do experience it, it can be disconcerting and may lead to questions about its underlying causes and potential health implications.

In this blog, we will delve into the fascinating world of sleeping with eyes open. We will explore the possible reasons behind this phenomenon and shed light on its impact on sleep quality and overall well-being.

Understanding the phenomenon

Sleeping with eyes open, also known as nocturnal lagophthalmos, is a condition where a person sleeps with their eyes partially or fully open. This condition occurs when the eyelids are unable to completely close during sleep, leaving a small opening through which the eyes remain exposed.

Nocturnal lagophthalmos differs from normal sleep behavior, where the eyes naturally close during sleep to protect and moisturize the ocular surface. When we sleep, our body goes through different stages of sleep, and during deep sleep, our muscles relax, including the muscles responsible for closing our eyelids.

However, in individuals with nocturnal lagophthalmos, the relaxation of these muscles is excessive or there may be an underlying issue preventing complete closure of the eyelids.

Common causes of sleeping with eyes open

Common causes of sleeping with eyes open

1. Bell’s palsy

One possible cause of sleeping with eyes open is Bell's palsy, a condition that affects the facial nerves, resulting in paralysis or weakness of the muscles on one side of the face. When the muscles responsible for closing the eyelids are affected, it can lead to the inability to fully close the eyes during sleep.

2. Eyelid disorders

Certain eyelid disorders can contribute to sleeping with eyes open. For example, if someone has ectropion, a condition where the lower eyelid turns outward, it can prevent the eyelids from fully closing during sleep.

Similarly, individuals with floppy eyelid syndrome or ptosis (drooping eyelids) may experience difficulty keeping their eyes closed while asleep.

3. Environmental factors

The environment we sleep in can also play a role in sleeping with our eyes open. Dry air, for instance, can cause excessive evaporation of tears and make the eyes feel dry and uncomfortable. As a result, the body instinctively tries to keep the eyes moist by keeping them slightly open during sleep.

Complications and concerns

Sleeping with open eyes may seem like a harmless habit, but it can lead to several complications and concerns.

One common problem that can arise is dry eyes. When our eyes are exposed to air for prolonged periods during sleep, the tear film that normally keeps our eyes moist and lubricated can evaporate more quickly, leading to dryness. This can cause symptoms such as redness, itching, burning, and a gritty sensation in the eyes.

If left untreated, chronic dry eyes can lead to more serious complications such as corneal ulcers or infections.

Exposure to irritants is another concern when sleeping with eyes open. Our environment is filled with various allergens and pollutants that can potentially irritate our eyes. When our eyelids are not closed during sleep, these irritants have direct access to our eyes, increasing the risk of eye irritation and allergic reactions. This can result in symptoms like watery eyes, itching, swelling, and excessive tearing.

Apart from physical discomfort, there may also be psychological concerns associated with sleeping with open eyes. People who sleep with their eyes partially or fully open may feel self-conscious or embarrassed about their appearance while sleeping. This can lead to anxiety or social discomfort, especially if others notice their unusual sleeping position.

Seeking medical advice

If you or someone you know experiences the phenomenon of sleeping with your eyes open, it is important to seek medical advice. While it may seem unusual or even amusing, it can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

Consulting a healthcare professional is essential to understand the cause and address any discomfort or concerns that may arise from this sleep behavior. When you visit a healthcare professional for evaluation, they will typically begin by gathering your medical history and conducting a thorough physical examination.

They may ask you questions about your sleep patterns, any symptoms or discomfort you experience during sleep, and any other relevant information. This helps them assess the possible causes of sleeping with open eyes.

In some cases, further tests may be recommended to determine the root cause of this sleep behavior. These tests can include a sleep study, also known as polysomnography, which monitors your brain waves, heart rate, breathing patterns, and eye movements during sleep. This can provide valuable insights into your sleep architecture and help identify any underlying sleep disorders.

It is important to approach the medical evaluation with an open mind and communicate openly with your healthcare professional. They are there to help you understand what might be causing this sleep behavior and work towards finding appropriate solutions or treatments if necessary.

Remember to provide them with all the relevant information and ask any questions or express any concerns you may have.

Managing sleeping with eyes open

Managing sleeping with eyes open

1. Use eye drops

Dry eyes often accompany sleeping with eyes open. This can lead to discomfort and irritation. Using lubricating eye drops before going to bed can help keep the eyes moist and prevent dryness. Look for preservative-free eye drops that are specifically formulated for nighttime use.

2. Adjust your sleep environment

Creating the right sleep environment can make a significant difference in managing this condition. Consider using a humidifier in your bedroom to add moisture to the air, which can help prevent dryness of the eyes. Additionally, using an eye mask or blackout curtains can create a dark environment that may encourage your eyes to close fully during sleep.

3. Consider protective eyewear

If you find that your eyes are frequently exposed during sleep, wearing protective eyewear can be a beneficial solution. Moisture goggles or specialized sleeping masks with side shields can provide a barrier and keep your eyes protected throughout the night.


As we uncover the secrets of sleeping with eyes open, it’s clear that this quirky sleep habit is more than just a curious sight. From facial nerve conditions to environmental factors, there's a variety of reasons behind it. Yet, it's important to recognize that what may seem amusing can lead to discomfort like dry eyes and potential social awkwardness.

If you or someone you know experiences open-eyed slumber, taking a friendly step toward seeking medical advice is key. Simple solutions like eye drops and adjusting your sleep space can make a big difference in making your nights more restful.

So here’s to embracing peaceful dreams, whether your eyes are open or closed. Sleep tight!

Frequently Asked Questions

Lagophthalmos is a condition characterized by the inability to fully close the eyelids during sleep. This results in the eyes being partially or completely exposed, rather than being protected by the natural closure of the eyelids. It can occur in one or both eyes and may have various underlying causes. 

When your eyes remain partially or completely open during sleep, it can lead to dryness and discomfort. The exposure of the cornea, which is the clear front part of the eye, can irritate and increase the risk of infections. Additionally, sleeping with eyes open may impact the quality of your sleep, as it can disturb the normal sleep cycle. 

If you often experience partially open eyes during sleep, seek advice from an eye care professional for suspected lagophthalmos. Consider using artificial tears to alleviate dryness, wearing an eye mask for improved eye closure and better sleep quality, and using a humidifier to prevent dryness. In severe cases, eyelid taping or surgery may be recommended to correct eyelid position and ensure proper closure during sleep. 


Dr. Kirilyuk Inna Anatolyivna

She is graduated from Vinnytsia National Medical University, in 2008.
2008-2010 resident, family practice.
2010-2015 General practitioner, family practice doctor.

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Current Version

Feb, 21 2024

Written By

Dr. Kirilyuk Inna Anatolyivna