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Why Are My Eyes Dry When I Wake Up?

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A woman who just woke up rubbing her eyes.

You don’t need us to tell you that dry, irritated eyes are no fun. And when they happen first thing in the morning? That can ruin your entire day! You blink, you rub, but nothing seems to help. The answer may be simpler than you think, and your optometrist can help.

There are several reasons why your eyes may be dry when you wake up, including low humidity levels, allergies, overwearing contact lenses, and underlying medical conditions. We can examine your dry eye symptoms with a comprehensive eye exam and help determine what’s ruining your mornings.

What Are Dry Eyes?

Dry eyes occur when your tears aren’t providing enough lubrication for your eyes. Sounds simple enough, but there’s a bit more to it.

You see, our eyes need a certain moisture level to function properly. This moisture, or ‘tear film,’ is a complex mixture of water, oils, and mucus. It helps keep the surface of our eyes smooth and clear, which in turn helps us see clearly.

However, if you’re not producing enough tears or if the quality of your tears isn’t up to par, you might end up with dry eyes.

Dry Eye Symptoms

Your eyes have their own way of letting you know something’s up. Common dry eye symptoms include:

  • A stinging or burning sensation
  • Feeling like there’s something in your eye
  • Redness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stringy mucus around the eye
  • Watery eyes

Why Are Dry Eyes Worse in the Morning?

Sleep should be a time of rest and recovery, but it can expose your eyes to factors you may not even be aware of.

Lack of Moisture in the Air

A big factor behind dry eyes is the lack of moisture in the air. This can happen in all seasons, too. Summers are typically hot and dry, but during the winter season, heaters running at full blast may lower your house’s humidity. When the air is drier, your eyes may not be far behind.

Sleeping with Your Eyes Open

It might surprise you to hear, but sleeping with 1 eye open isn’t just a turn of phrase. People with nocturnal lagophthalmos don’t close their eyes completely when they sleep.

It may only be slit, but this sleeping habit can cause your eyes to dry and feel uncomfortable when you wake up. You may not even know if it’s happening unless your sleep partner informs you. If you suspect you have this habit, it’s advisable to visit a doctor so they can run some tests to determine the cause and how to remedy the situation.


Eye allergies can worsen dry eye symptoms, and you may be allergic to something in your bedroom. Even if you don’t normally experience a severe allergic reaction to an allergen during the day, spending 8 hours with your face in it can change that tune.

Allergies can cause eye inflammation, leading to dryness and discomfort. Be cautious of downing antihistamines without consulting a doctor, however, since they can reduce tear production.

Other Risk Factors for Dry Eyes

In some cases, nighttime factors simply expose other reasons you may have dry eyes. Common risk factors for dry eyes include:

  • Being 50 or older
  • Medications, such as antihistamines, blood pressure medication, and oral contraceptives
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • A lack of vitamin A
  • Autoimmune conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Sjögren’s syndrome

Women tend to be more likely to develop dry eyes, so count your risk factors as each adds to your odds of facing this frustrating phenomenon.

Preventing Dry Eyes

A man in a white shirt drinking a glass of water outdoors.

So now you know what dry eyes are and what they feel like, but how do you prevent them? Great question! Here are a few things you can do to support the natural moisture in your eyes:

  • Stay hydrated: Just like the rest of your body, your eyes need water to stay healthy. So, make sure you’re drinking plenty of H2O.
  • Blink regularly: We tend to blink less while staring at screens. Remember, blinking helps keep your eyes lubricated.
  • Use a humidifier: These handy devices can add moisture to the air, which can help prevent your eyes from drying out.
  • Protect your eyes: If it’s windy or sunny, consider wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from drying out.
  • Take breaks from screen time: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away. We call this the 20-20-20 rule.

But what if you’re already dealing with dry eyes? Don’t worry; we’ve got your back. Optometrists can recommend many dry eye treatments, including:

  • Artificial tears: Over-the-counter lubricating eye drops can provide instant relief for mild to moderate dry eyes. Always talk to your optometrist to find the eye drops that are right for you.
  • Prescription eye drops: If artificial tears aren’t enough, your optometrist might prescribe special anti-inflammatory eye drops that help reduce the inflammation dry eyes can cause.
  • Meibomian gland expression: This is like a mini spa day for your eyelids, where your eye doctor gently massages out any oils blocking your tear glands.
  • Punctual plugs: Think of these as tiny little dams for your tear ducts. They stop your tears from draining away too quickly, helping keep your eyes nice and moist.
  • Eyelid hygiene: Bacteria and oil can build up on your eyelids, affecting your tears. Special wipes can clean away grime safely.

Don’t Let Dry Eye Ruin Your Mornings

Waking up with dry eyes is a common and uncomfortable experience, but one you don’t have to live with. You deserve good mornings. That’s where Fontana Optometric Group of Fontana, Upland, & Rancho Cucamonga comes in. We’re dedicated to keeping your eyes working like they should: comfortably and reliably.

If you’re waking up with dry eyes, reach out to any of our locations and book your exam. Let’s give your eyes the love they deserve.

Written by Dr. Jason Flores

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