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Why Are My Eyes Red When I Wake Up?

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A woman in her pajamas in bed wakes up with red eyes and is rubbing her left eye with her right hand.

Waking up with red eyes can make your mornings more frustrating than they need to be. This is a common occurrence that happens to people every day, but why exactly does it happen? Is it eye strain, allergies, or something much worse?

Your eyes have blood vessels that carry blood, oxygen, vitamins, and nutrients to and from the eye. But these blood vessels are prone to developing problems that can lead to them dilating, enlarging in size, and becoming more visible. This gives the appearance of red or bloodshot eyes in the morning.

Fortunately, you can visit your optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam so they can diagnose what may be causing your red eyes. They may be able to recommend a form of treatment so you can avoid waking up with red eyes.

Is It Bad if Your Eyes Are Red in the Morning?

If you wake up and notice that your eyes are red, you might be concerned and worried about the cause. Fortunately, it isn’t always a reason to rush to the doctor or optometrist.

There are blood vessels in your eye that are responsible for delivering nutrients and oxygen to the tissue in and around the eye. But this doesn’t make them immune to other problems that can develop.

These blood vessels can become prone to dilation, swelling, or irritation caused by many different factors. If they become inflamed or exposed to allergens, they can temporarily swell and become more visible. This makes the eye appear more red.

However, this isn’t always a problem. Many causes of red eyes are relatively harmless. In most situations, you can tell if your red eyes are an indicator of a more serious issue if you experience:

  • Dry eyes
  • Discomfort
  • Itchiness
  • Visible swelling of the eyeball
  • Excessive tearing
  • Light sensitivity
  • Headaches

If you wake up and your eyes are red, but you don’t experience other symptoms, they’ll likely return to normal fairly quickly. However, if you notice the above symptoms, you should visit your optometrist or a healthcare professional to see if your red eyes are indicating a more serious problem.

Potential Causes of Red Eyes When You Wake Up

Your blood vessels can be exposed to many different things that can cause inflammation. However, there are some common causes that may be causing you to wake up with red eyes:

These common conditions often have their own unique symptoms, but often can be a cause of red eyes in the morning.

Digital Eye Strain

Digital eye strain is a condition that develops when you overwork your eyes for an extended period of time on a digital screen. When your eyes are straining to focus on something small, like the text on a computer screen, it can often cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Strain
  • Soreness in and around the eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision
  • Sensitivity to light

If you spend most of your team using screens, it helps to use the 20-20-20 rule—every 20 minutes of screen time, look at something roughly 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This can help your eyes adjust and avoid overworking them.

A woman sits up in bed, looking tired and frustrated with her head resting in her hand, as she is unable to sleep.

Lack of Sleep

Sleep deprivation, whether caused by one night’s poor sleep or a long-term case of insomnia, can lead to a host of physical changes. Your body uses sleep to regenerate, rest, and recuperate from the day. While sleeping, you go through a restorative process to help keep your body functioning and ready for the next day.

But if you don’t get enough sleep, this process becomes disrupted. It can lead to dilated blood vessels in the eye, leading to increased blood flow in the area. This can give the appearance of bloodshot eyes and feelings of dryness.

Long-term sleep deprivation can also make other conditions related to red eyes worse. Allergies, eye strain, dry eye—all of these need rest and recuperation for their symptoms to recede. It’s important to try and maintain a proper sleep schedule to give your body time to rest.

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos

There’s another condition closely related to the lack of sleep that can cause red eyes in the morning: nocturnal lagophthalmos

This is a condition where your eyes don’t fully close while you sleep. This can be due to:

  • Weak muscles in the eyelid
  • Medical conditions
  • Biological or anatomical anomalies

This creates an opening in the eyelid while you’re sleeping, exposing it to the air around you. It can cause:

  • Dry eyes
  • Irritation
  • Discomfort
  • Damage to the cornea
  • An increase in blood flow as the eye tries to heal

As the eye dries out instead of recuperating while you sleep, it can cause inflammation—leading to red eyes when you wake up.

This condition can be tricky to treat on your own. If you believe you’re experiencing it, you should speak with your optometrist as soon as you can. They can recommend a form of treatment like using eye drops in the morning or a protective face mask while you sleep to keep your eyelids sealed.


An allergic reaction is best described as your immune system overreacting to a particular substance or chemical known as an allergen. Whether it’s pet dander, dust, or pollen in the air, these allergens can become airborne and come into contact with the eye. When they do, a condition called “allergic conjunctivitis” occurs. 

This is the body trying to flush out the allergen. However, if the allergen gets stuck on your tear film or the surface of your eye, it can cause side effects. It causes the blood vessels to dilate, allowing more blood flow to the eye as it tries to flush out the allergen. Inflammation occurs, which can make this redness appear more visible. 

Fortunately, you can manage most allergies through the use of over-the-counter antihistamines or other anti-allergy medication. It can be beneficial to avoid triggers where possible and try to implement proactive measures to avoid being exposed, like using safety goggles, masks, and other ways to keep yourself away from allergens.


Alcohol is considered a “vasodilator.” This means that it relaxes and widens the blood vessels in your body—including those in and around the eyes. When you drink enough alcohol, it can cause the blood vessels in the sclera (the white part) of your eye to dilate, giving the appearance of redness.

Alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning that it causes you to urinate more often. This can lead to dehydration, redness, irritation, and dryness in and around the eyes. When your eyes don’t have the moisture they need, it can cause the blood vessels to appear more prominent.

What To Do If You Have Red Eyes

If you find yourself waking up with red eyes more often than not, you should visit your optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam. Having a trained professional examine your eyes can be an excellent way to learn what’s causing the redness to appear. At Total Vision Tierrasanta, our team is here to help. Book an appointment with us today, and find out what’s causing your red eyes in the morning.

Written by Total Vision

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