Dry eye is a common condition that occurs when the eyes don’t produce enough tears or the tears evaporate too quickly. It can also be caused by health conditions like nocturnal lagophthalmos.

Dry eye can be uncomfortable and cause some pain, redness, and a burning sensation in your eyes.

Some of the most common reasons for waking up with dry eyes are:

  • your eyelids aren’t remaining tightly closed during sleep (nocturnal lagophthalmos)
  • you aren’t producing high quality tears to lubricate your eyes
  • you aren’t producing enough tears to lubricate your eyes

Read on to learn what might be causing your dry eyes and how to treat them.

If you often have dry eyes in the morning, it may be due to a medical reason. Causes of dry eyes in the morning can include:

  • not being able to fully close your eyelids while sleeping
  • inadequate tear quality
  • inadequate tear production
  • allergies
  • wearing contacts to sleep

Nocturnal lagophthalmos is the inability to fully close the eyelids when sleeping. It’s thought to be caused primarily by the weakness of the seventh cranial nerve, also known as the facial nerve.

There are various causes for facial nerve weakness, including:

  • skull or jaw trauma
  • injury to the cerebellar artery, which delivers the facial nerve’s blood supply
  • Bell’s palsy, a sudden but temporary facial muscle weakness

You may also have poor sleep quality.

Tears have three layers to protect and nourish the front surface of the eye. These include water, mucus, and oil layers.

The water layer hydrates the eye, while the oil layer prevents the water layer from evaporating. The mucus layer spreads the tears evenly over the surface of the eyes.

All three of these layers are needed to produce tears. Tear quality drops if any of these layers don’t have a significant enough volume.

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is a common cause of dry eyes. It’s caused by an inadequate amount of water in the tears.

Glands around and in the eyelids produce tears. According to the American Optometric Association, you might not be producing enough tears for several reasons. These include:

Allergies can cause eye issues, such as itchiness and burning. But if you only experience them in the morning after sleep, it may be due to allergies in your sleeping environment. Common allergens can include:

  • dust mites
  • mold
  • pet dander
  • skin care products you may use before bed

Many people also have allergies along with dry eye syndrome. Regular allergies may affect the surface of the eye over time and lead to dryness, and dry eye syndrome may also worsen allergies.

Wearing contact lenses can make your eyes feel more dry. You may notice this in the morning if you sleep in your contacts.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend not sleeping in your contact lenses unless an eye doctor prescribes contacts that you can sleep in.

The first step is to find out what’s causing your dry eyes. The best way to get that information is to visit an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam.

Be sure to tell the doctor about any medications and nutritional supplements you’re taking.

Depending on your specific situation, a doctor might recommend any of the following treatment options:

  • Artificial tear drops: You can purchase over-the-counter eye drops that lubricate your eyes. Your doctor might suggest a heavier ointment or serum for use during sleep, depending on the cause of your dry eyes.
  • Punctal occlusion: This procedure involves your doctor closing the duct that drains tears from your eyes (punctum).
  • Thermal pulsation: If the glands that produce the oil in your tears (meibomian glands) are blocked and causing dry eyes, your doctor may suggest a thermal pulsation system (LipiFlow). This system heats and massages the blockage to remove it.

Your doctor also might recommend any of the following medications:

  • cholinergic or tear-stimulating drugs, such as cevimeline or pilocarpine
  • eye inserts, such as hydroxypropyl cellulose ophthalmic insert (Lacrisert), which are inserted between your eyeball and your lower eyelid for lubrication
  • antibiotics, which can reduce inflammation that might be interfering with oil-secreting glands.
  • prescription eye drops, such as corticosteroids or cyclosporine (Restasis), can control inflammation of your cornea (surface of your eye)
  • therapeutic contact lenses

They may also recommend strategies you can use at home to help manage dry eyes.

There are many treatments for dry eyes that you can try at home. These include:

  • Warm compresses: Applying a warm compress to the eyes can help unclog oil-producing glands. Soak a clean washcloth with warm water and then, with your eyes closed, gently press it against your eyelids. Consider doing this a number of times a day for a week or two.
  • Washing eyelids: To help manage eyelid inflammation, use warm water and mild soap, such as baby shampoo, to gently massage near the base of your eyelashes on your closed eyes.
  • Using a humidifier: Adding moisture to dry indoor air, especially during the winter, can help keep your eyes from drying out.
  • Drinking water: Stay hydrated by consuming 8 to 10 glasses of water a day.
  • The 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes you spend viewing a screen, try to take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away, the American Optometric Association recommends.
  • Wraparound sunglasses: Protect your eyes from the sun and drying winds by wearing wraparound sunglasses.
  • Air filters and purifiers: Filters and purifiers can reduce the amount of dust and other airborne irritants that can promote dry eyes.

You can try some treatment options for dry eye discomfort at home. This can include applying a warm compress and washing your eyelids.

But if your discomfort continues for a few days, it’s better to make an appointment with your eye doctor. They can do a comprehensive eye exam and recommend a treatment plan based on the particular cause of your symptoms.