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Why Are My Eyes Dry When I Wake Up?

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A woman in bed covered by bed sheets rubs her eyes with both hands.

Waking up with dry eyes can be irritating, especially when you don’t know what’s causing the dryness or how to deal with it. Dry eye disease is caused by either a lack of tear volume or poor quality tears, which leads your eyes to lack moisture. When your eyes lack moisture, it can lead to:

  • Dryness
  • Redness
  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Itchiness
  • Burning sensation

Some specific factors can lead to dry eye in the morning. Learning what can cause dry eye, what solutions are available, and how an optometrist can help you overcome your symptoms are ideal steps toward getting relief.  

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos

Nocturnal lagophthalmos occurs when your eyelids don’t close during sleep. When your eyelids don’t close properly, it leaves your eyes vulnerable to scratches and other injuries since they are unprotected. Additionally, since nocturnal lagophthalmos causes your eyes to be open all night, they don’t get lubricated by tears from your eyelids.

It’s often challenging to diagnose nocturnal lagophthalmos. Visit your optometrist and tell them about waking up with dry eyes. They can perform several tests, which can include:

A person with nocturnal lagophthalmos may only sleep with their eyes slightly open; however, that small gap can still cause issues. 

A close-up of a woman rubbing her dry eyes.


Inadequate tear production and poor-quality tears are the two main characteristics of dry eye disease. Staying hydrated is an important part of tear production. When you blink, your eyelids lubricate the eye surface. Without proper hydration, your eyelids can make your eyes dry.

Men and women require 15.5 and 11.5 cups of water a day to stay adequately hydrated. In addition to producing a higher tear volume, drinking more water can also benefit your overall health by:

  • Increasing oxygen in blood cells
  • Helping with digestion
  • Cushioning your joints
  • Regulating body temperature

Autoimmune Conditions

Autoimmune conditions can lead to swelling and inflammation that aggravates dry eye symptoms. In some cases, an eye doctor can help determine if you are suffering from an autoimmune disease by examining your eyes during a regular eye exam. 


High blood sugar in type 1 and 2 diabetes can cause dry eye. High blood sugar can cause decreased tear production. In addition, diabetes can cause inflammation throughout the body, which makes it harder for your lacrimal glands to produce tears. Diabetes can cause other eye conditions like diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts. 

Thyroid Disease

Thyroid disease can cause your body to attack healthy cells. This reaction from thyroid antibodies to healthy cells can mean the tissue around your eyes aren’t as healthy as it could be, which can cause dry eye. Like diabetes, thyroid disease can also cause inflammation in the lacrimal glands, affecting tear production.

Screen Use Before Bed

If you overuse a screen before bed, it can lead to dry eye. When you use a screen, you don’t blink as often as you usually would, which can cause tear evaporation. Tear evaporation can mean your eyelids don’t lubricate your eye surface properly, which can cause dry eye symptoms. 

In addition to dry eye symptoms, digital eye strain can also cause:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Trouble focusing
  • Restless sleep

The American Optometric Association recommends using the 20-20-20 rule to help overcome digital eye strain. The rule states that for every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, spend 20 seconds looking at an object 20 feet away from you. Using this strategy gives your eyes a break and lets them break focus from the small text and images on your screen.

What to Do About Morning Dry Eye

Dry eye in the morning can be irritating, painful, and annoying. The first step in developing a treatment plan is understanding the underlying cause of dry eye. Your skilled optometrist can develop a strategy to overcome your condition. 

At Optical Illusions, we offer several dry eye solutions, including:

  • Artificial tears & medicated eye drops
  • Oasis punctal plugs
  • Optase dry eye products
  • Heating masks & lid wipes
  • Zocular eyelid system treatment
  • Omega-3 supplements

We take pride in offering technologically-focused solutions to dry eye and focusing closely on your care at our San Mateo optometrist practice. Whether it’s dry eye solutions, comprehensive eye exams, or getting new frames and lenses, we’re here to help.

Written by Dr. Will To

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