Sleeping with your eyes open sounds like something from a horror film, but it’s a real condition called nocturnal lagophthalmos. It occurs when the eyelids can’t close enough to cover the eye—either partially or fully.
Surprisingly, the condition is quite common. As much as 20 percent of people experience it, and it even occurs in babies. It can be hereditary, so if you sleep with your eyes open, your infant might, too (but most children grow out of it).
However, if you still experience nocturnal lagophthalmos as an adult, it’s important to check in with a doctor. First, sleeping with your eyes open robs your peepers of important moisture. When your eyes are closed throughout the night, tears help clean and repair your cornea. That’s why the condition can lead to dry eyes, blurred vision, infection, and even permanent vision problems, if not treated.
But eye irritation isn’t the only problem your physician will check for. Sleeping with your eyes open could be a symptom of a serious, underlying medical problem such as stroke, thyroid disease, or facial nerve damage, so diagnosing the cause of nocturnal lagophthalmos could save your health.
Here’s the tricky part: Since you can’t see yourself while you sleep, it can be hard to know whether you have this condition. However, if you wake up with dry, tired, or itchy eyes on a regular basis, it could be a sign your eyes are slightly open. You can also ask your partner to check on you and take a photo of you while you snooze.
Luckily, nocturnal lagophthalmos can be treated. Sometimes simply wearing an eye mask to bed is all you’ll need to do. But surgical options—such as tightening and elevating the lower eyelid to allow it to shut completely—also exist. Whatever you choose to do, just don’t ignore the condition, as it could lower the quality of your sleep.