Whitby Family Eye Care, Dr.Leslie Fitzgerald & Associates
25 Thickson Rd Whitby ON L1N 8W8 (905) 728-7017
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Whitby, ON
(905) 728-7017

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Why Do My Eyes Hurt When I Wake Up?

A young man lying in bed rubbing his eyes with his hands.

Waking up with eye pain or discomfort is a common issue that many people experience. The primary cause of this discomfort is often related to dry eye syndrome, a condition that affects millions worldwide. However, waking up with dry eyes and morning eye irritation can be attributed to several factors, including environmental conditions, medical issues, or contact lens issues. 

When experiencing eye pain, it’s essential to visit your optometrist. There may be a concern about your eye health. Your optometrist will start with an eye exam to determine the cause of pain and find a solution. 

Dry Eye Syndrome

One of the leading causes of morning eye discomfort is dry eye syndrome. This condition occurs when your eyes don’t produce enough tears or when the tears evaporate too quickly. During sleep, your eyes may not refresh fully, leading to a buildup of debris and dryness on the surface of the eye. As a result, you may wake up with red, gritty, or burning eyes.

To alleviate dry eye symptoms, your optometrist may prescribe medicated eye drops, such as Restasis, Xiidra or Cequa. For bedtime, instilling lubricating eye drops and investing in a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your bedroom can be of benefit. Additionally, practicing good eyelid hygiene by gently cleaning the eyelids with a therapeutic lid wipe can help prevent blockages in the oil glands that contribute to dry eye.

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos 

Normally, our eyes remain closed during sleep, serving to block out light, protect the eyes, and maintain moisture. However, 20% of individuals experience a condition known as nocturnal lagophthalmos, which involves sleeping with one’s eyes partially or fully open. This phenomenon may stem from nerve and muscle issues, eyelid damage, or complications of thyroid-related eye issues.

If not addressed, the dry eye caused by this condition can lead to serious consequences such as diminished vision quality, eye infections, and damage to the cornea, though these outcomes are not guaranteed. It’s advisable to speak with your eye doctor if you regularly experience dry eyes upon waking.

Contact Lens Issues

If you wear contact lenses, they could be contributing to your morning eye discomfort. Sleeping in contact lenses, especially if they’re not designed for extended wear, will lead to irritation, redness, and even vision threatening corneal ulcers. Additionally, protein and debris can accumulate on the surface of the lenses overnight, causing discomfort when you wake up. Keeping your contacts clean and replacing them for fresh lenses regularly will make wearing lenses much more comfortable. Better still, it’s safer to avoid sleeping in soft contact lenses altogether.

To avoid contact lens-related eye pain, follow your eye care provider’s recommendations for proper lens wear and hygiene. Never sleep in lenses not intended for overnight wear, and make sure to clean and disinfect your lenses regularly. If you experience persistent discomfort, consider switching to daily disposable lenses or discussing alternative options with your optometrist.

Environmental Factors

At times, the cause of your morning dry eyes could be linked to the environment you’re in. Factors such as air conditioning, exposure to windy conditions, or simply the dryness of the air might be culprits. So, how can you tackle this issue?

Introducing a humidifier into your sleeping area or even placing a bowl of water nearby can help reintroduce moisture into the air. Moreover, when venturing outdoors, remember to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the wind and arid environments.

Medical Issues

  • Allergies: Allergic reactions can cause inflammation and discomfort in the eyes, often worsening after a night’s sleep due to prolonged exposure to allergens.
  • Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): An infection or inflammation of the eye’s outer membrane, conjunctivitis can cause significant pain and discomfort, often felt immediately upon waking.
  • Blepharitis: Inflammation of the eyelids, which can lead to sore, itchy eyes and is often more pronounced after sleeping due to the lack of tear production overnight.
  • Recurrent Epithelial Erosion: A condition typically related to a previous injury or genetic predisposition that affects the cornea, leading to severe pain upon waking.
  • Sinusitis: An infection in the sinuses can cause pressure around the eyes and face, leading to pain, especially noticeable in the morning.

Reasons to Visit Your Optometrist

If you frequently wake up with eye pain or discomfort, it’s essential to schedule an appointment with your optometrist. While dry eye and contact lens issues are common culprits, there could be underlying conditions contributing to your symptoms, such as allergies, infections, or inflammation.

Your optometrist can conduct a thorough eye health exam to determine the cause of your discomfort and recommend appropriate treatment options. They may prescribe medicated eye drops, suggest changes to your contact lens routine, or provide guidance on lifestyle modifications to improve your eye health.

In some cases, morning eye pain could be a sign of a more serious condition, such as keratitis or uveitis, which require prompt medical attention to prevent vision loss. By addressing any concerns with your optometrist, you can make sure that you receive the proper care and maintain optimal eye health.

Close-up of a man undergoing a slit-lamp exam.

Prioritizing Your Eye Health

Waking up with sore, irritated eyes can be unpleasant, but understanding the potential causes and seeking help from your eye doctor can alleviate your discomfort and protect your vision in the long run. 

Whether it’s dry eye syndrome, contact lens issues, environmental factors, or another underlying condition, don’t ignore persistent eye pain–schedule an appointment with your eye doctor at Whitby Family Eye Care today.

Visit Our Location in Whitby

Whitby Family Eye Care is at the north east corner of Thickson Rd & Hwy 2, in the KFC plaza. Parking is conveniently located right outside the practice.

Our team of optometrists at Whitby Family Eye Care are proud to offer the following eye care services:

  • Eye Exams
  • Eye Issues and Diseases
  • Laser Eye Surgery Consultation
  • Dry Eye Treatment
  • Emergency Eye Care
  • Contact us today by booking an appointment online or giving us a call, and we will be happy to assist you.


    25 Thickson Rd North
    Whitby, ON, L1N 8W8

    Contact Information

    Phone: (905) 728-7017
    Fax: (905) 728-0865


    If you have an emergency, please visit your nearest emergency department or health care physician.

    Monday: 8:00AM - 5:00PM
    Tuesday: 8:00AM - 5:00PM
    Wednesday: 8:00AM - 5:00PM
    Thursday: 8:00AM - 6:00PM
    Friday: 9:00AM - 2:00PM
    Saturday: By Appointment Only
    Sunday: Closed
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