If you’re like most parents, you love to watch your baby sleep. There can be something so comforting about seeing the rise and fall of their little chest as they lie peacefully slumbering. But what about when your baby appears to be staring back at you?
Should you wake them up? Call the doctor? Let them continue to sleep? Before you grab the phone and start dialing an emergency number, allow us to help you relax!
Before you get too nervous about your baby’s health, it may be helpful to know that this is not as uncommon as you may fear. In fact, there’s even a medical term for it, nocturnal lagophthalmos.
Most of the time nocturnal lagophthalmos in babies is actually physiological lagophthalmos, meaning there is no medical cause, and there are no symptoms from sleeping with the eyes partially open.
While the medical name may seem long and technical, the fact is that it’s fairly common in both adults and infants.
One older review article notes an estimate that 1.4 percent of the population sleeps with their eyes open, and up to 13 percent have a family history of nocturnal lagophthalmos.
Why do some babies sleep this way? Research has not identified an exact cause. Some potential reasons for why your baby may sleep with their eyes open include:
- Heredity. If your partner has mentioned that you sleep with your eyes open, there’s a stronger chance your baby will, too.
- Developing nervous system and REM. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep patterns combined with a still-developing nervous system might contribute to open eyes during sleep. Babies go through longer periods of REM sleep than adults, and eye movement is more common in adults and babies during REM sleep.
- Birth abnormalities. In extremely rare situations, your baby may not be able to close their eyelids due to a congenital abnormality. In these cases, surgery may be necessary to rectify the problem.
So what can you do if your little one is fast asleep with their eyes open?
Unless you notice that they seem to be developing dry or irritated eyes there is no need to do anything!
Because sleeping with their eyes open can leave their eyes feeling dryer, you may want to use a humidifier to keep more moisture in the air.
In the rare event that you notice that their eyes seem to be drying out, you’ll also probably want to check with their doctor about eye drops or an ointment to ensure that the cornea does not become damaged.
While there is no need to go out of your way to correct this, some parents feel most comfortable closing their babies eyes when they are asleep.
If you would like to close your baby’s eyes, you should wait until they are fast asleep and then gently use your fingers to guide their eyelids down over their eyes.
You’ll also want to ensure that your baby is sleeping in a way that they are less likely to startled awake.
This means a dark environment with a nice cool temperature that’s safe from pillows, blankets, and other hazards. (This is also important to help lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome [SIDS].) Many parents choose to play light music or white noise to help their little one stay asleep, too.
Under normal conditions your baby should outgrow this condition, eventually.
If they’re sleeping with their eyes just slightly or partially open, it is not likely cause for concern, but perhaps something to bring up at your baby’s next well visit.
If you are concerned your baby seems to have any other symptoms, or if their eyes are more widely open, then check in with your pediatrician sooner.
In the rarest of cases, sleeping with eyes partially open may be due to birth defects that impact your little one’s eyelids. In that case, it’s important to work with their doctor to get your baby the treatment they need. You’ll also want to seek treatment if their eyes seem dry and irritated.
If, after seeing your baby sleep with their eyes open, your partner reports that you also sleep with your eyes open, you’ll want to see your doctor to rule out any medical problems associated with adults who sleep this way.
While it may be disarming for you to watch your baby sleep with their eyes open, it should be comforting to know that it’s normal!
While you’ll want to keep an eye out (see what we did there?) to make sure your baby’s eye area isn’t looking dry or irritated, it’s likely you have nothing to worry about.