How to Mend Bloodshot Eyes

Turns out, supplementing sleep deprivation with eye drops is a bad, bad idea.

Bloodshot_Eyes (1)

Science continues to implore that we make more time for sleep, but there are these things called smartphones, and staring at them instead of sleeping is enjoyable, addictive and something I tend to spend my nights doing. The problem is, less time sleeping and more time gawking at social media results in my eyes looking like the inside of a volcano. 

Of course, putting that phone away and going to sleep before sunrise is an obvious solution, but nah, I need that phone time, man. So for some tips on looking less like a demon and more like a person who actually sleeps, I emailed Terry Cralle, certified clinical sleep educator and author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top: How to Get the Sleep You Need to Succeed.

First, Cralle explains that “bloodshot eyes develop when blood vessels near the surface of the eye become enlarged and dilated.” This can happen for a number of reasons, including allergies, dryness, infection, irritation from contact lenses, and of course, not sleeping enough. “Sleep deprivation can result in a decrease in the amount of oxygen that reaches the eyes, which in turn causes blood vessels in the eyes to dilate and appear red,” Cralle says. “Lack of sleep also results in the eyes being kept open for a longer period of time, causing dryness and redness.”

Cralle also mentions that people who look at phones and computers for long periods of time (sounds familiar!) are more susceptible to bloodshot eyes, since “people tend to blink about half as much as normal when they are working on a computer.” Likewise, those who tend to sleep with their eyes open — up to 20 percent of adults, according to Cralle — are more prone to dryness, and therefore, redness. Similarly, those with Floppy Eyelid Syndrome, when the eyelids turn inside-out spontaneously during sleep, are especially susceptible to bloodshot eyes, for obvious reasons.

As for mending bloodshot eyes, Cralle first emphasizes the importance of sleeping a sufficient amount, but we already decided that feeding my digital addiction is more valuable to me. She then recommends applying a warm compress, like a warm towel, which can help with tear production and dryness that may contribute to redness. On the flip side, she also suggests applying a cold compress, which “will help to constrict the blood vessels in your eyes.”

While eye drops might seem like another viable option, Cralle has some reservations in recommending them. “Eye drops used to help get rid of bloodshot eyes can actually make the eyes appear even redder by way of a ‘rebound redness’ that can occur with chronic use,” she warns. “These types of eye drops work by shrinking blood vessels on the surface of the eyes and reducing blood flow to them, which in turn causes less nutrients and oxygen to reach the eyes. When the drops are stopped, the blood vessels become enlarged to make up the difference, meaning the eyes can become even redder.” She adds that eye drops can be used, but for no more than 72 hours at a time, unless you’ve been instructed otherwise by a doctor, “as they may be masking an underlying issue.”

So, needless to say, I might as well be the poster boy for bloodshot eyes, because I spend too much time on my phone and not enough in my dreams, both of which are the most basic causes of eye redness. I guess I better put this phone down after checking just this one notification… 

*three hours later*