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Why Are My Eyes Dry When I Wake Up?

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A woman rubbing her eyes after just waking up in the morning

If you’ve ever woken up in the morning with dry, irritated eyes that are in need of instant relief, then you’re not alone. 

Dry eye disease is a common problem and can cause symptoms that range from mild discomfort to intense irritation and can often affect your eyes in the morning. Also it can be frustrating when the relief from artificial tears wears off quickly, or your eyes constantly feel dry throughout the day—even after using drops several times. 

Fortunately, with some tips and tricks from your optometrist, it’s possible to identify what may be causing your morning dry eye symptoms and create a plan to help ease your discomfort. 

What Causes Dry Eye Disease?

Dry eyes can be uncomfortable and frustrating even after a good night’s sleep. While there are various causes of this condition, including age, medications, and autoimmune disorders like Sjögren’s syndrome, dry eyes occur when there’s a dysfunction with the tear film, meaning your eyes don’t make enough tears or your tears don’t work correctly.

The tear film is a thin, protective layer that covers the surface of your eyes. It consists of 3 layers:

  • The outer lipid (oily) layer
  • The middle aqueous (watery) layer
  • The inner mucin (sticky) layer

This combination of layers helps to keep your eyes lubricated, moist, nourished, and protected. Dry eye disease leads to a breakdown in the tear film that leaves your eyes vulnerable, unprotected, and uncomfortable, potentially leading to inflammation and damage to the ocular surface.

Symptoms of Morning Dry Eyes

When you wake up with dry eyes, you might experience symptoms like:

  • Redness on the whites of the eye
  • Stinging
  • Burning 
  • Scratchiness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurring vision
  • Stringy mucus near their eye

Common Causes of Morning Dry Eye Disease

Dry eye disease can cause dry, uncomfortable eyes in the morning. But other factors can also lead to morning dry eyes, such as:

  • Sleeping with air conditioning or central heating. 
  • Sleeping with your eyes slightly open.
  • Your tear glands becoming less efficient with age.
  • Taking certain medications, such as antihistamines or decongestants, which can reduce tear production.
  • Experiencing low tear production due to thyroid problems, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or Sjögren’s syndrome.
A woman uses a small mirror in the morning to look at her dry eyes

How to Address Dry Eyes in the Morning 

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to alleviate the discomfort:

  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom at night to add moisture to the air. 
  • Use lubricating eye drops or an ointment before bed. 
  • Switch to glasses for a few days if you wear contacts to give your eyes a break.
  • Remember to blink regularly and avoid rubbing your eyes. 
  • See your optometrist for a dry eye exam.

With these tips, you can start your day with clear, comfortable eyes.

Tips for Avoiding Dry Eyes in the Future 

You can also take some steps to help prevent dry eyes in the future: 

  • Blink more often, especially if you spend long periods in front of a computer or television screen
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water during the day and avoiding alcohol and caffeine. 
  • Ensure proper lighting when reading or working; bright light or glare can cause eye strain.
  • Use a warm compress on your eyes for a few minutes to help reduce inflammation and stimulate tear production.
  • Use eye drops designed for dry eyes, which can provide immediate relief and hydration.
  • Practice good sleep habits, such as getting enough rest and avoiding screens before bed.
  • Use a humidifier in your home or office, particularly if you live in a dry climate or work in an air-conditioned environment. 
  • Increase omega-3 fatty acids intake through diet or supplements. Walnuts, sardines, anchovies, soy products, chia seeds, caviar, and oysters are high in omega-3s.
  • Wear proper sunglasses outside to protect your eyes from UV rays and pollution.
  • Take regular breaks from screens, including cell phones, TVs, and tablets, and use computer glasses if necessary.

Waking up with dry, irritated eyes can put a damper on your day before it starts. Thankfully, there are a few simple steps you can take to alleviate this uncomfortable morning symptom. By taking these steps, you can begin your day with a clear, comfortable vision and a renewed sense of energy.

Find Relief for Dry Eyes 

It’s essential to prioritize eye health because good vision can help us immensely. We can take simple steps to protect and maintain our vision health, like getting regular eye exams. By giving our eyes the care they deserve, we can continue to enjoy all the beauty and wonder the world has to offer.If you’re experiencing symptoms of dry eye disease, such as redness or burning sensation, contact Family Vision Care for an assessment. We’re available to answer questions about your eye care needs, whether related to dry eyes or not!

Dr. Jessica DeLuca

Written by Dr. Jessica DeLuca, OD

Dr. Jessica DeLuca received her doctorate at The Ohio State University College of Optometry in 2021 graduating Magna Cum Laude. She also received the 2021 Excellence in Binocular Vision and Pediatrics Award.

She has extensive training in fitting contact lenses, performing diabetic eye exams, as well as managing dry eye, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and attended the University of Pittsburgh for her undergraduate education.

Her favorite hobbies include exercising, spending time outdoors, and relaxing with her dog.

More Articles By Dr. Jessica DeLuca, OD

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A visit to our office is an experience that is thorough and efficient. We take care of the whole family from 5 years old and up with comprehensive services, including eye exams, contact lens fittings, dry eye therapy, eye disease management, and more. 

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