Tips for Dry Eyes at Night: Info and Strategies for Relief

Apr 18, 2024 | 7 min read

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Dry eyes at night disrupt sleep and affect millions, with nearly 16 million Americans suffering from the condition as reported by the National Eye Institute. Various factors, including environmental influences, pre-bedtime screen use, and health conditions contribute to this issue. 

Understanding the causes and adopting effective management and preventive strategies can significantly improve eye comfort and quality of life.

Dry Eyes at Night

Understanding Dry Eyes at Night

Definition and Symptoms

Dry eyes at night, a condition where the eyes fail to stay adequately lubricated or moistened, can be particularly bothersome, affecting your ability to enjoy a good night's sleep. At night, the symptoms of dry eyes can intensify due to decreased blink rates and the horizontal body position, which can disrupt the even distribution of tears across the surface of the eyes. Common symptoms include:

  • Stinging or Burning Sensation: This discomfort can escalate during the night when natural tear production slows.
  • Increased Eye Irritation: Eyes may become more irritated from lack of moisture, especially in environments like heated or air-conditioned rooms.
  • Blurred Vision: Frequent during evenings or upon waking, as tear film instability increases overnight.
  • The feeling of Grittiness: A sensation as if sand is in the eyes, which can disrupt sleep and increase discomfort.
  • Redness: Often more pronounced at night, contributing to discomfort and potential sleep disturbances.

These symptoms, experienced primarily at night or worsening during night hours, can significantly impact one’s quality of life by disrupting sleep and increasing discomfort. If you're experiencing these symptoms regularly, it might be helpful to use Symptom Checker to check them and identify their causes.

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Why Nighttime Matters

The impact of dry eyes at night extends beyond mere discomfort, influencing both sleep quality and overall health. During sleep, our eyes undergo essential restorative processes, and without adequate moisture, the eyes' health and the body's ability to recover from daily stressors are compromised. Here’s why addressing nighttime dry eye symptoms is crucial:

  • Sleep Disruption: Dry eyes at night can lead to frequent awakenings and difficulty falling asleep, which in turn can lead to sleep deprivation and its associated health risks.
  • Increased Risk of Eye Infections: Overnight, the protective tear film is less active, which can increase the risk of bacterial infections due to inadequate antimicrobial protection.
  • Potential Damage to Corneal Health: Persistent dryness can cause micro-abrasions on the corneal surface, leading to more severe complications if left untreated.

Understanding and addressing the reasons why symptoms worsen at night is key to managing dry eyes effectively and ensuring a restful night’s sleep.

What Causes Dry Eyes at Night?

Biological Causes

Dry eyes at night can often be traced back to issues with the tear film, a complex three-layered structure that protects and nourishes the eye. Each layer plays a crucial role:

  • Outer Lipid Layer: Produced by the meibomian glands, this oily layer prevents the evaporation of the underlying watery layer and maintains smooth eye movement.
  • Middle Aqueous Layer: This is the thickest layer, produced by the lacrimal glands, and it washes away particles and contaminants that may harm the eye.
  • Inner Mucin Layer: This layer ensures that the aqueous layer spreads evenly over the eye and helps the tears adhere to the surface.

Disruptions in any of these layers—whether due to decreased production or poor quality—can lead to tear film instability, which is particularly noticeable at night when the body's hydration levels naturally decrease. Other biological factors contributing to dry eyes include:

  • Age-Related Changes: As people age, particularly those over 50, it becomes harder to produce sufficient and high-quality tears.
  • Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations due to pregnancy, menopause, and the use of contraceptive pills can also impair tear production.
  • Medical Conditions: Diseases like Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and thyroid disorders can affect tear production and lead to dry eyes.

External and Lifestyle Causes

Several external and lifestyle factors can exacerbate dry eyes at night:

  • Screen Time: Prolonged use of digital devices reduces blink rates, crucial for renewing the tear film. This effect can be more pronounced at night, leading to significant discomfort.
  • Environmental Factors: Factors such as low humidity, exposure to wind, smoke, pollution, or air conditioning can increase tear evaporation, particularly in enclosed spaces used for sleeping.
  • Nocturnal Lagophthalmos: In this condition, the eyelids fail to close completely during sleep, exposing the eye surface and increasing moisture loss.
  • Dehydration: Not consuming enough fluids can reduce both tear production and quality, worsening dry eyes at night.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: A lack of essential nutrients like vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids can impair tear film health and contribute to dry eyes.
  • Medications and Surgeries: Certain medications, including antihistamines, diuretics, and oral corticosteroids, as well as refractive surgeries like LASIK, may reduce tear production.
  • Contact Lens Use: Wearing contact lenses, especially for extended periods or overnight, can significantly increase the risk of developing dry eyes.

How to Stop Dry Eyes at Night?

Over-the-Counter Solutions and Prescriptions

Managing dry eyes at night often begins with accessible over-the-counter (OTC) solutions, which can provide immediate relief. Artificial tears are the most commonly used OTC option. They are specially formulated to supplement natural tear production and are available in various viscosity levels—from watery to gel-like consistencies. The latter can be particularly beneficial at night as they provide longer-lasting lubrication. When choosing artificial tears, opt for preservative-free varieties to minimize potential irritation.

For those who find that OTC products are not sufficient, prescription treatments may be necessary. These can include:

  • Anti-inflammatory Eye Drops: These are designed to reduce corneal inflammation and increase tear production.
  • Corticosteroid Drops: Used short-term to manage severe symptoms.
  • Autologous Serum Drops: Tailored from an individual’s blood serum, these drops are rich in nutrients and promote healing of the ocular surface.

It's important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate type and combination of treatments based on the severity and underlying causes of your dry eye condition.

Advanced Treatments and Procedures

For severe cases of dry eyes at night, where basic treatments are insufficient, more advanced procedures may be considered:

  • Punctal Plugs: These tiny devices are inserted into the tear ducts to block drainage, which can help keep the natural tears in the eyes longer. They come in temporary and permanent variants.
  • Surgical Options: Procedures to correct eyelid abnormalities or to permanently close tear ducts can provide long-term relief.
  • Thermal Pulsation and Intense Pulsed Light Therapy: These newer treatments target the meibomian glands in the eyelids, which produce the oily part of tears. By unclogging these glands, these treatments help stabilize the tear film and reduce evaporation.

These options should be discussed with an eye care professional to understand the risks, benefits, and potential outcomes.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle Adjustments

Environmental Adjustments

Creating an eye-friendly environment at home is crucial in managing dry eyes at night. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Use a Humidifier: Adding moisture to the air can prevent your tears from evaporating too quickly, especially in dry climates or heated rooms.
  • Control Air Quality: Avoid direct airflow from fans, heaters, and air conditioners, as these can increase tear evaporation. Using air purifiers can also help remove irritants from the air.
  • Optimize Sleeping Conditions: Ensure your sleeping area is well-ventilated and free from allergens. Consider using hypoallergenic pillows and bedding to reduce exposure to irritants.

Diet and Hydration

Proper nutrition and hydration play a significant role in maintaining healthy tear production:

  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water throughout the day helps maintain overall hydration and supports all bodily functions, including tear production.
  • Increase Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Foods rich in omega-3s, such as fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, can improve the oil film produced by the meibomian glands, enhancing tear quality and reducing evaporation.
  • Essential Vitamins and Minerals: Ensure a balanced diet that includes vitamins A, D, and B12, which support eye health.

When to See a Doctor

If you find that home remedies and over-the-counter treatments aren't alleviating your dry eye symptoms, it may be time to consult a healthcare professional. Here are some indicators that professional intervention may be necessary:

  • Persistent Discomfort: Ongoing irritation, dryness, or a burning sensation that does not improve with basic care.
  • Increased Sensitivity to Light: If bright lights become bothersome or painful, this could indicate more severe dry eye issues.
  • Impaired Daily Functions: Difficulty performing everyday tasks, such as reading, driving, or working on a computer, due to visual disturbances or discomfort.

Prevention Strategies

Routine Changes

Implementing routine changes can significantly reduce the risk of developing dry eyes, especially at night:

  • Reduce Screen Time: Decrease the amount of time spent in front of screens, and take frequent breaks to allow your eyes to rest. Following the 20-20-20 rule—every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds—can be particularly helpful.
  • Proper Eyecare Hygiene: Regularly clean your eyelids to remove irritants. Use a gentle cleanser and warm water to wash away debris that could contribute to dry eyes.
  • Use Protective Eyewear: Sunglasses or protective glasses can shield your eyes from harsh environmental conditions like wind and bright sunlight, which can exacerbate dry eye symptoms.

Diet and Supplements

A balanced diet rich in certain nutrients can help prevent dry eyes:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Incorporating foods like salmon, flaxseeds, and chia seeds can improve tear production and quality.
  • Adequate Hydration: Drinking sufficient water daily is crucial for maintaining overall hydration, including the moisture levels in your eyes.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Ensure your diet includes plenty of vitamin A (found in carrots and sweet potatoes) and vitamin D (from fortified foods or sunlight exposure), as these are essential for maintaining good eye health.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Dry eyes at night can significantly impact your comfort and quality of life, but understanding the causes and applying effective treatments can alleviate symptoms. If you experience persistent discomfort despite trying various strategies, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation. Don't let dry eyes go untreated, as they can lead to more serious complications. 

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