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Why You Keep Waking Up With Dry Eye

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Women waking up in the morning with dry eyes frustrated

Dry eyes are a prevalent, uncomfortable and irritating condition. Patients commonly experience dryness when their eyes are not producing tears adequately, or when tears evaporate too quickly. Symptoms of dry eye can include:

  • Stinging
  • Gritty feeling
  • Scratchy and uncomfortable
  • Burning
  • Feeling like there’s something in your eye

Patients with dry eyes may experience flare-ups at different times of the day or worsening symptoms at night. Waking up with dry eyes can leave you feeling unrested, and unprepared for the day ahead. It’s definitely not the best way to kick off your morning!

At Aurora 2020, we work closely with our patients to treat dry eye, and eliminate the morning scratchiness that comes with it. Typically, our first step involves determining the cause of your dryness, then providing appropriate treatments. 

If you’re waking up with dry, irritated eyes in the morning, contact our team for an appointment. We’ll work hard to provide the relief you need!

The Cause of Morning Dry Eye

You can wake with dry eyes for many reasons, and sometimes there may be more than one cause. 


You already know this, but not drinking enough water can wreak havoc on your body– your eyes are no exception! Frequent dry eyes can result from dehydration, so make sure you’re drinking enough fluid during the day to keep your eyes moist overnight. 

Inadequate Tear Production

Your eyes should be working to flush substances while you sleep at night, and if they cannot produce enough tears, it can result in dry eyes upon waking.

Tear production can diminish due to several factors, like:

  • Age
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Side effects from certain medications
  • Environmental factors
  • Windy or dry climates

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos

Nocturnal lagophthalmos is the inability to close eyelids fully while sleeping. Studies suggest that a weakness in the facial nerve primarily causes this condition.

Facial nerve weakness can be caused by:

When eyes cannot close completely, it may result in rapidly evaporating tears and inadequate tear production, causing dry eyes. 

Women experiencing dry eye due to screen time before sleeping in bed

Screen Time Before Sleeping

If you use a screen before sleeping, it can dry your eyes. We blink less often while using digital devices, which can cause our tears to evaporate more rapidly.

Thyroid-Related Symptoms

Graves’s disease is a form of hyperthyroidism, and a common symptom of this condition is bulging eyes. Protruding eyes can result in difficulties with closing eyes while sleeping. Eyes that cannot close properly are at risk of excessive dryness. 

Side Effects of Medication

Certain medications can affect tear production, and result in irritated, dry eyes when you wake up. Medicines that may exacerbate dry eyes include: 

  • Cold medicines like decongestants and antihistamines
  • Drugs for hormone therapy
  • Diuretics
  • Beta-blockers
  • Anti-depressants
  • Pain Relievers
  • Certain acne medications

If you’re temporarily taking medication with dry eye side effects, the symptoms should gradually resolve once you’ve completed your dosage.

If you’re taking medication for chronic health conditions, read the labels closely, and speak with your optometrist about an alternative with side effects that don’t include dry eyes. 


Tear production declines as we age, and dry eye becomes more common in people over 50.

What Can I Do About My Dry Eyes?

First things first – Let’s find out the cause of your dry eyes. 

Book a comprehensive eye exam with your optometrist, and discuss your symptoms with them directly. They’ll look closely at your eyes to search for conditions, or anything that may cause a lack of tear production. 

Remember to bring a list of your current medications and nutritional supplements! 

Your optometrist will recommend a treatment based on the cause of your symptoms. It may take a little bit of trial and error to find the right solution, but your eye care team will work hard to ensure you start your day with happy and refreshed eyes. 

Treatments may include:

  • Changes to prescriptions: Changing medications and making dosage adjustments and different medications may help alleviate morning dry eye symptoms.
  • Lifestyle changes: A couple of small changes can make a huge difference in your morning. Try things like: 
    • Using a humidifier
    • Keeping the fan or air conditioner away from sleeping areas
    • Keeping windows closed overnight on smoky or windy days
    • Avoiding the use of computers and digital screens at night
    • You knew we were going to say this, right? DRINK MORE WATER
  • Eye drops: Over-the-counter eye drops can be beneficial for mild cases of dry eye, but your optometrist may recommend a heavier ointment for overnight use. 
  • Eyelid treatments: Your eye care team may suggest certain ointments to help reduce inflammation, or the use of warm compresses to break down blockages and alleviate dry eye symptoms.
  • Specialized sleeping masks: Your optometrist may be able to recommend a sleeping mask that will help your eyes feel more refreshed in the morning. 
  • Eyelid surgery: Patients with severe cases of nocturnal lagophthalmos may benefit from eyelid surgery to alleviate symptoms of dry eye. 

Relief is Waiting

You don’t need to live with the irritating symptoms of dry eyes!

If you’re frequently experiencing dry eyes in the morning, contact our team at Aurora 2020 for a comprehensive eye exam and dry eye consultation. You deserve to start your day feeling comfortable and refreshed, and we can help. Don’t be shy– Reach out to us today.

Written by Dr. Robert MacAlpine

Dr. MacAlpine graduated from Queen’s University, and attended the New England College of Optometry in Boston, MA. He graduated in 1999 with clinical and academic honours and was recipient of the Alcon Award for Most Outstanding Contact Lens Clinician. His internships included Pediatric and Low Vision focused training, several Veteran Affairs Hospitals in the greater Boston area, and the Barnet Dulaney Cataract and LASIK Center in Phoenix, Arizona. After graduating, Dr. MacAlpine established a successful practice and optical store in the Boston area. Practicing in the United States allowed him privileges of treatment and prescribing for eye diseases that were not permitted to Ontario Optometrists until 2011. Robert was thrilled to return to his native Ontario in 2011 to raise his two daughters, Deanna and Ella with his wife Amy. He enjoys playing hockey and being active with his family.
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