I’ve been there before—waking up feeling like the moisture has been sucked out of your eyes. Opening your eyelids feel as if you’re prying them apart. This dry feeling is a result of reduced tear production when you are asleep. Everytime we blink, a layer of tears coat the front of the eye like a protective film. The average person blinks approximately 15-20 times per minute during the day which produces tears that provide moisture and lubrication across the cornea. However, this tear production is reduced when we are asleep because we are not able to blink.
Causes of Dry Eyes
There are many reasons for dry eyes in the morning ranging from age, environment, medical conditions, and more. The most common causes of dry eyes in the morning are mentioned below.
Tear film imbalance
The exact cause of dry eyes is directly related to the tear film. Tears nourish, lubricate, and protect the front surface of the eye.
The tear film is composed of three parts: mucus, water, and oil.
- The mucus layer helps tears latch on to the surface of the eye.
- The water layer sits on top and helps lubricate and wash away debris.
- The oil layer is the outer layer that prevents tears from evaporating and seals in moisture.
These layers work together and if any of these parts are not doing their job, the tear film becomes imbalanced resulting in dry eye problems leading to dry eyes in the morning.
Many diseases are directly linked with poor tear film quality. Some diseases that can cause dry eyes are Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and collagen vascular diseases.
Nocturnal lagophthalmos is a condition in which a person can’t fully close eyelids during sleeping. The major cause of this is the weakness of the seventh cranial nerve, also known as the facial nerve. The inability to fully close eyelids during sleeping leads to dry eyes in the morning after sleep. There are many reasons for the weakness of the facial nerve. Some common cause includes:
- Skull trauma
- Temporary weakness of facial muscle
- Any injury to the artery supplying blood to the facial nerve.
Production of Tears
Lacrimal glands are responsible for the production of tears. If there is reduced production of tears in the eyes, it can cause dryness in the eyes. The abnormality in the tear production is also known as Dry Eye Syndrome (DES). DES can sometimes lead to a chronic lack of moisture on the eye surface. Moisture on the eye’s surface is essential for good eye health because it reduces friction during the blinking of eyes. Common symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome are itching, burning, and stinging feeling in the eye which can become worse over time.
The external environment has a significant impact on the eyes and can be a major cause of dry eyes in the morning. Windy climates dry out the eyes and cause itching. It is generally observed that people living in the cities experience more dryness in the eyes rather than people living in rural areas. The major reason is the higher level of air pollution. Air pollutants directly affect the eyes and lead to critical eye diseases. Different kinds of allergens like dust and mold can be present in the bedroom which can lead to dry and irritated eyes in the morning. Sleeping with a fan can also exacerbate this condition because it causes the tear film to evaporate quicker and exposes your eye to air.
As we age, our tear production naturally decreases. This results in an imbalance of the oil, water, and mucus in their tears causing symptoms of dry eyes. People over the age of 65 are more likely to face dry eye symptoms. This is because certain diseases impact the elderly population like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Another factor responsible for dry eyes is menopause in women. With age, the hormonal level in women decreases. It has significant effects on the body. A major problem faced by women are dry eyes in the morning. During menopause, there is a low estrogen and progesterone hormone, which causes significant glandular changes. The imbalance in hormones is causing reduced production of tears. The eyes are less lubricated and lead to the dryness, pain, itchiness, and redness in the eyes.
Dry eyes are a common symptom of various medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, lupus, thyroid issues and vitamin A deficiencies. Blepharitis is an eyelid inflammation which occurs when oil glands become clogged causing irritation and redness. Eyelids stick together during sleep and eyelashes become crusty and greasy, which leads to dry eyes in the morning after sleep.
The side effects of many drugs also cause an imbalance in the production of tears. Several antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants, and medications related to blood pressure can cause dryness in the eyes as their side-effect. All these medicines have a negative effect on tear production.
Home Remedies for Dry Eyes
There are a lot of treatments available for dry eye relief. Here are some home remedies that can be applied to reduce the dryness.
Sometimes there is a clog in the oil glands of the eyes, which causes an imbalance in the production of tears and leads to dry eyes in the morning. Warm compresses can help to unclog the oil glands by melting solidified wax. Close your eyes and apply a warm compress over your eyelids for 5-10 minutes. Remove the compress and massage the eyelids to stimulate and unblock oils in your eye. Applying warm compresses daily or twice a day helps to treat the dryness of eyes.
Gently washing eyelids gently
If there is an inflammation in the eyelids, wash eyes with warm water and a mild soap like baby shampoo. Gently massage around the closed eyes helps to remove debris and oil from the eyelid and eye lashes. Maintaining proper hygiene is important to prevent bacteria and infections.
Drinking more water
Water makes up about 60% of your body and every cell, tissue, organ needs it to survive. If your body is dehydrated, the dryness in your eyes can be exacerbated. The intake of 1.5 liters of water daily can help to keep the eyes in good condition. For your body to function properly, you need to replenish fluids that are lost from sweating, going to the bathroom, exercising, and breathing. A recommended goal is to drink drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day to stay hydrated. I always drink a large glass of water when I wake up because my body hasn’t had any water for 8 hours.
Healthy diet and lifestyle
Most degenerative eye diseases are associated with oxidative damage. Many dietary antioxidants help to protect eyes from oxidative damage. Eating fruits that have a high level of vitamin C is essential to maintain good eye health. The use of black currants and blueberries gives relief from the dryness of eyes.
There are some necessary fatty acids for the proper functioning of eyes that produces fatty oils. Omega 3 is a necessity for the proper functioning of oil glands. Using food containing a high level of Omega 3 keeps the eye in a tip-top condition.
Use a humidifier
The air in the room becomes dry, especially in winter. It directly affects the eyes and causes dry eyes in the morning after sleep. Using heat typically dries out the air. This can be offset with a humidifier to increase the moisture in the room’s internal environment helps keep the eyes from drying out.
Use air filters
The dust and airborne irritants can be major cause of dryness in the eyes, especially in big cities. Using air filters to eliminate pollutants and improve indoor air quality.
Waking up with dry eyes in the morning is an annoying and frustrating condition. It cancels out the positive feelings of a good night’s sleep and can impact the entire day. Some home remedies mentioned above may help provide some relief for your dry eyes. However, If the condition continues for a few days, consult an ophthalmologist for a complete eye examination to look for irregular tear film production and dryness.