We have all had it, after a long night of peaceful sleep you wake up with a bunch of sleep in your eyes. Patients will come in for a visit because they think the gunk on their lids and lashes is an infection. Let me tell you what it is, why this is happening, and when you should worry.

Tears Protect Your Eyes at Night

When we sleep, one of the most important functions of your body is to moisturize and protect your eyes. This is vital to your long term health and safety because a dried out cornea will cause poor vision. Prolonged dehydration of the eye can also lead to scarring and permanent vision loss. As a result, your body produces tears to hydrate your cornea. Depending on the environment, your diet, and the current state of your eyes, these tears can be secreted in a variety of forms. On certain occasions or seasons they tend to be more of a goopy mess that can linger on your lids and lashes. 

Oil Glands Relax When You Sleep

Additionally, we all have glands on our eyelids, meibomian glands, that secrete the oil portion of our tears. This oil layer is a protective barrier for the water portion of tears. It stops the tear film from evaporating and keeps your eye hydrated. Well, these glands relax at night and allow for secretion. On some nights this secretion is more than normal and can accumulate on the lids and lashes.

Dead Skin and Bacteria- Oh my!

Thirdly, we have a ton of skin on our face and around our lids and a lot of our dead skin is exfoliated at night which accumulates on our lids and lashes. If you have poor lid hygiene, bacteria can be present on your lids and at the base of your eyelashes. These bacteria secrete exotoxins and waste that accumulate as well. Combine this with the tears and oil and you have “sleep” in your eyes when you wake up.

Normal function vs When to seek treatment

As you can see a lot of the accumulation is a result of the body’s natural processes. Using a warm washcloth to wipe away the sleep should be sufficient. Making sure to have proper lid hygiene at night is also something that can help. Cleaning your face at night can get rid of a lot of the dead skin before you go to bed. If the gunk persists throughout the day, your eyes remain red and irritated, or you want to talk to a health professional to be sure there is not an infection, feel free to call the office (or click here to schedule) and we will be happy to help!