Waking Up with Dry Eyes: Causes and Treatment

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Jing Zhang is a prominent figure in the realm of sleep research, specializing in the intricate connection between sleep and memory. With an extensive research tenure exceeding 7 years, she…

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Last Updated On January 26th, 2024
Waking Up with Dry Eyes: Causes and Treatment

Key Takeaways

  • Causes of Morning Dry Eyes: Understanding the potential causes, such as excessive screen time, low humidity, allergies, and certain medications, is crucial. Identifying and addressing these factors can help alleviate discomfort and prevent long-term issues like blurry vision.
  • Effective Treatment Options: Incorporating practical solutions like using artificial tears, warm compresses, over-the-counter remedies, prescription eye drops, and meibomian gland expression can significantly improve tear quality, relieve dryness, and promote overall eye health. Consulting with an eye care professional for a comprehensive examination is advisable to determine the best course of action.
  • Proactive Measures for Eye Health: Taking proactive measures, including reducing screen time before bed, using a humidifier, and maintaining good hygiene practices, can contribute to preventing dry eyes. Regular comprehensive eye exams play a crucial role in identifying and addressing underlying issues, ensuring optimal eye health and comfort.

Do you wake up in the morning with dry, irritated eyes? If so, you’re not alone. This is a common issue that affects many people. Dry eye symptoms occur when your eyes do not produce enough tears or produce poor-quality tears.

Tears are essential for maintaining healthy eyes as they help to lubricate and protect the eyes. They are composed of three layers, including a mucous, aqueous, and oil layer. The oil layer is particularly crucial as it prevents evaporation of the aqueous layer, which contains essential nutrients and proteins.

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Several factors can contribute to waking up with dry eyes, including dry indoor air, wearing contact lenses, and issues with tear production caused by oil-producing glands (meibomian gland) dysfunction.

Having dry eyes is not only an uncomfortable feeling, it can really negatively impact your sleep, according to Dr. Jing Zhang. A study Verified Source ScienceDirect One of the largest hubs for research studies and has published over 12 million different trusted resources. View source shows that all aspects of sleep qualities are decreased in people with dry eyes.

In this article, we’ll explore the causes of dry eyes and discuss effective treatment options to alleviate discomfort and restore eye moisture.

So, keep reading on to learn more about the causes of waking up with dry eyes, the role of tears in eye health, and how factors like dry indoor air and wearing contact lenses can affect tear production.

Potential Causes of Dry Eyes

Waking up with morning dry eyes can often be attributed to reduced tear production during sleep, resulting in discomfort upon waking. Persistent dryness not only causes eye pain but can also lead to blurry vision, emphasizing the importance of addressing underlying factors for overall eye health.

Here’s a list of potential causes for waking up with dry eyes:

  • Excessive Screen Time: Prolonged use of digital devices can contribute to dry eyes. Reducing your evening screen time matters because it can worsen symptoms you may experience overnight due to digital eye strain. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source
  • Low Humidity: Dry air, especially in low-humidity environments, may lead to eye dryness.
  • Medical Conditions: Thyroid problems, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or Sjögren’s syndrome can also cause low tear production.
  • Allergies: Allergic reactions, particularly to airborne allergens, Verified Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The United States’ health protection agency that defends against dangers to health and safety. View source can result in dry eyes upon waking.
  • Sleeping with Eyes Partially Open: Sleeping with eyes open partially can lead to increased tear evaporation and dryness. If your eyelids stay partially open while you sleep, it’s known as nocturnal lagophthalmos.
  • Contact Lenses: Extended wear or even sleeping with contacts in, along with improper care of contact lenses, can contribute to dry eyes.
  • Age: Aging can lead to reduced tear production and an increased likelihood of waking up with dry eyes due to aging-related medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source
  • Eyelid Problems: Conditions affecting the eyelids, such as blepharitis Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source can contribute to dry eye symptoms.
  • Certain Medications: Some medications may have dry eyes as a side effect. Older ages may also be more susceptible to this side effect of certain medicines due to their reduced tear production.

Waking up with dry eye symptoms can happen if your tear film evaporates while you sleep. The best solution is for your eye doctor to uncover the root cause of your tear production issues.

We suggest consulting with an eye care professional for a thorough examination Verified Source Medline Plus Online resource offered by the National Library of Medicine and part of the National Institutes of Health. View source and appropriate guidance, especially in exploring effective ways of treating dry eyes.

They may recommend specific prescription eyedrops or nutritional supplements to address underlying issues and provide targeted relief based on your individual needs.

Effective Treatment Options for Waking Up with Dry Eyes

If you’re experiencing dry eyes Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source in the morning, there are various treatment options Verified Source Harvard Health Blog run by Harvard Medical School offering in-depth guides to better health and articles on medical breakthroughs. View source available to alleviate discomfort. Here are some of the most effective treatment options:

Use Artificial Tears

When we blink, the eyelids actively spread the tear film over the front of the eyes, ensuring a continuous redistribution that keeps the eyes hydrated and moist.

Using artificial tears is one of the easiest and most common ways Verified Source Harvard Health Blog run by Harvard Medical School offering in-depth guides to better health and articles on medical breakthroughs. View source to manage dry eyes. These eye drops work by lubricating the eyes, providing relief from dryness and irritation. You can purchase over-the-counter artificial tears at your local pharmacy or supermarket.

However, be careful about what eye drops Verified Source U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Part of America’s Department of Health and Human Services and dedicated to providing accurate health information. View source you purchase.

For targeted eye care, consider incorporating specific eye drops or ointments into your nighttime skin routine.

Warm Compress

Applying a warm compress to your eyes can also help improve tear quality and relieve dryness. This method works by promoting the production of oil from your oil-producing glands called meibomian glands.

Include warm compresses in your bedtime routine to soothe dry eye symptoms and open blocked oil glands in the eyelids, enhancing eye moisture and promoting relaxation after a long, hard day.

Over-the-Counter Remedies

In addition to artificial tears, there are other over-the-counter remedies to consider. For example, gels and ointments can provide longer-lasting relief from dry eyes. However, be sure to consult with your eye doctor first to determine if these remedies are suitable for you.

Certain dietary supplements can also help with dry eyes, suggested by Dr. Jing Zhang. For example, studies Verified Source ScienceDirect One of the largest hubs for research studies and has published over 12 million different trusted resources. View source suggest that a diet rich in fish, nuts, and other sources of omega-3

Stay Hydrated

Proper hydration is crucial for overall health, including eye health. Ensure you stay hydrated for good sleep and drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to support tear production.

Just avoid drinking water before bed, as this can result in bathroom runs far too early in the morning.

Prescription Eye Drops

If your dry eyes are severe or are caused by an underlying condition, your eye doctor may prescribe prescription eye drops. These drops are more potent than over-the-counter remedies and can offer significant relief. They may also work by tackling the underlying cause of your dry eyes.

Try Eye Exercises

Incorporate simple eye exercises into your routine. Rotate your eyes clockwise and counterclockwise, focus on near and distant objects alternately, and perform palming exercises to relax your eyes.

Meibomian Gland Expression

For some people, undergoing a procedure called meibomian gland expression can help manage dry eyes. This method involves a gentle massage of the eyelids to express any blockages in the meibomian glands. This allows oil to flow freely, improving tear quality and reducing dryness.

Comprehensive Eye Exam

To determine the best treatment plan for your dry eyes, it is crucial to schedule a comprehensive eye exam. During this exam, your eye doctor will assess the quality and quantity of your tears, identify any underlying causes of dry eyes, and recommend appropriate treatment options.

By utilizing these effective treatment options and prioritizing eye health, you can manage dry eyes and wake up feeling comfortable and refreshed each morning.

Practice Good Screen Health for Eyes

Maintaining good screen health is crucial to prevent dry eyes throughout the day and reduce the eye strain associated with prolonged digital device use that affects sleep.

Adjust the distance between your eyes and the screen to a comfortable level. The recommended distance is usually arm’s length. Positioning your screen at eye level can also reduce strain on your neck and eyes. Ensure there is no glare on the screen, as glare can contribute to eye discomfort.

Modify the brightness, contrast, and font size on your screen to make it more comfortable for your eyes. A screen that is too bright or too dim can contribute to eye strain. Consider using blue light filters or glasses that block harmful blue light emitted by screens.

When reading or using electronic devices for extended periods, make a conscious effort to blink regularly. Blinking helps distribute tears and keeps your eyes moisturized.

Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break, and look at something 20 feet away. This helps reduce eye strain caused by continuous screen focus. In addition to the 20-20-20 rule, take regular breaks from screen use. Stand up, stretch, and move around to prevent stiffness and reduce eye strain.

How to Make a Bedroom Environment to Avoid Dry Eyes

Creating a healthy bedroom environment that prevents dry eyes involves addressing various factors, including humidity, lighting, and personal habits.


Dry indoor air, especially during the colder months in a winter bedroom when heaters are running, can contribute to dry eyes. When the air is dry, it can lead to increased evaporation of tears from the surface of the eyes. Tears play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the eyes by providing moisture, lubrication, and nutrients.

A humidifier adds moisture to the air, preventing it from becoming too dry. Aim for a humidity level between 30-50%. You want to make sure you don’t make the air too damp, though, as this can promote mold in the bedroom.

Fans may also contribute to a decrease in humidity in the bedroom, so you want to be cautious about sleeping with a fan on if you’re experiencing dry eyes.

Bedroom Lighting

Ensure that the ambient lighting in the room is adequate. Avoid harsh or overly dim bedroom lighting, as it can cause glare or force your eyes to work harder to focus.

Reduce exposure to screens emitting blue light, such as smartphones or computers, at least an hour before bedtime. Blue light can disrupt your sleep patterns and contribute to dry eyes.

It’s best to avoid using your phone before bed if it can be avoided.

Maintain Cleanliness

Clean regularly, as dust can exacerbate dry eyes. Keep your bedroom clean, especially surfaces prone to collecting dust, such as shelves and dressers. You’ll also want to clean your mattress regularly with quick vacuuming of crevices.

Consider the benefits of an air purifier with a HEPA filter to reduce airborne allergens and particles that may contribute to eye dryness.

Dust mites and allergens in bedding can contribute to eye irritation. Wash your sheets, pillowcases, and blankets regularly in hot water to eliminate potential allergens, following laundry care symbols as you do so.

Opt also for hypoallergenic pillows and bedding materials, along with a hypoallergenic mattress, to minimize the risk of allergic reactions that may lead to dry eyes.

Sleeping Habits

Sleeping with your eyes partially open or exposed to air circulation can contribute to dryness. Consider using a sleep mask to protect your eyes and keep them moist during the night.


When should I be concerned about burning eyes?

Persistent burning eyes and other uncomfortable symptoms may indicate underlying issues like dry eye syndrome, allergies, or eye infections. If the discomfort persists despite using over-the-counter solutions or if you experience additional symptoms like redness, sensitivity to light, or vision changes, it’s crucial to consult with an eye care professional. They can offer a comprehensive examination.

Why do I struggle to open my eyes in the morning?

Difficulty opening your eyes in the morning could be attributed to a common phenomenon known as “sleep crust” or “eye discharge.” This occurs when oils, mucus, and debris accumulate in the corners of the eyes during sleep.

While this is typically normal, persistent or severe cases may indicate an underlying issue, such as blepharitis or conjunctivitis. Such cases may require professional evaluation.

Should you put eye drops in before bed?

Applying lubricating eye drops before bed can be beneficial, especially for individuals prone to dry eyes. Nighttime use allows the drops to work overnight, providing prolonged relief from dryness and discomfort. You can even incorporate it into your nighttime skin routine.

We advise choosing preservative-free eye drops and consulting with an eye care professional, though, They can help you determine the most suitable product and application for your specific needs. However, using eye drops daily for an extended period is not recommended. 

Can drinking water stop dry eyes?

While staying hydrated is essential for overall health, simply drinking water may not directly prevent or alleviate dry eyes. Dry eye syndrome is often related to insufficient tear production or poor tear quality.

To address dry eyes, consider using artificial tears, maintaining a humid environment, and consulting with an eye care specialist or healthcare professional for personalized recommendations.

Can pillows cause dry eyes?

Certain pillow materials or allergens in pillows might contribute to dry eyes, especially if you have allergies. Dust mites, feathers, or other allergens in pillows could lead to eye irritation. Opting for hypoallergenic pillows and regularly washing pillowcases can help reduce the risk of allergens affecting your eyes.

Can sleeping with a fan cause dry eyes?

Yes, sleeping with a fan can contribute to dry eyes. The airflow generated by a fan may increase tear evaporation, leading to dryness and discomfort. To minimize this effect, position the fan away from your face or use a humidifier to add moisture to the air.

If dry eyes persist, consult with an eye care professional for personalized advice.

How do I stop my eyes from drying out when I sleep?

To prevent eyes from drying out during sleep, consider using a humidifier in your bedroom to maintain optimal moisture levels. Applying a lubricating eye ointment or gel before bedtime can also provide lasting relief.

If dry eyes persist, consult with an eye care specialist to identify the underlying cause and receive tailored recommendations for effective management.


Now that you are familiar with the causes and symptoms of waking up with dry eyes, it’s time to take action. Seeking appropriate treatment options can help restore eye moisture and alleviate discomfort.

When it comes to creating a healthy environment, it’s important to address factors like dry indoor air and wearing wraparound sunglasses in harsh weather conditions. Additionally, scheduling regular comprehensive eye exams can help identify any underlying causes of dry eyes and ensure the most effective treatment.

Remember, taking care of your eyes is a priority. By incorporating treatment options, lifestyle changes, and creating a healthy environment, you can prevent and alleviate waking up with dry eyes.

About the author

April Mayer is a sleep expert and writer with a degree in exercise physiology. She has dedicated her career to exploring the relationship between sleep and productivity. Her insightful articles, such as "The Surprising Way Your Mood Might Be Messing With Your Productivity" and "Wake Up to More Productive Mornings," have been featured in reputable publications like Forbes, Greatist, Real Homes, Thrillist, Tom's Guide, and Eat This, Not That. With a passion for helping others lead more productive lives through restful sleep, April offers valuable expertise on foods and vitamins for better sleep. As a trusted member of the Early Bird team since March 2020, she continues to provide informative and well-researched content.

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