I have vague memories of the first time I noticed “sleep in my eyes”. I was a bit perturbed by the crust that had formed in the corners of my eyes, so I asked my mom about it. She told me that it was sleep, and not to worry about it. This was highly confusing: I thought sleep was something you did, not something that accumulated. After some thought, I determined that it must have been the magic sand the sandman uses to help you drift off to sleep, and thought about it no more. As it turns out, there are biological and physical causes for “sleep” that have little to do with mythical enchanters. This article will break that myth, so if it’s one you’re vested in holding onto, read no more!

During the day, you blink a lot. In fact, if you’ve been staring at a screen for awhile, take this moment to blink. Right now.

Okay, now that we’re back, let’s talk about that blink! When you blink, you give your eyes the opportunity to do a lot of things, among them flushing out anything that might be accumulating, by spreading tears and oil. When you’re asleep, however, you don’t blink, for reasons that should be obvious to all but the possessed. As a result, stuff begins to accumulate in your eyes – lots of stuff. We’re talking mucus, oil, skin cells, dust – all those fun biological byproducts we’d rather not think about. This combination is also known as “rheum”, and is generally totally harmless. Want to clear out rheum? Don’t start by rubbing your eyes vigorously like they do in fiction; that’s a good way to promote an eye infection. Instead, take a damp, clean cloth, and wipe them out. Your rheum may be quite solid or pretty liquid, depending on the particular biological concoction your body has cooked up that day.

While most of the time “sleep” is perfectly fine, sometimes it can be a sign of ocular problems. When you have particularly sticky, viscous discharge, it could be a sign of bacterial conjunctivitis, especially if the discharge is yellow, grey, or green. Conversely, very watery, stringy, discharge is often the sign of allergic conjunctivitis; purely watery discharge that’s discoloured is often viral conjunctivitis. Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are super contagious, so you should get them treated right away. Chronic allergic conjunctivitis can cause a lot of stress and other problems, so you should get that checked out too.

When the sleep in your eyes is weirding you out, especially for prolonged periods of time, it could very well be an eye problem; you probably don’t think about rheum too much because it occurs routinely, so unusual sleep is worth checking out. Fortunately, Winnipeg eye care is readily accessible; you can walk-in and get a checkup most of the time! We’ll be more than happy to talk about your sleep if it helps you get to sleep.