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Why Do I Wake Up with Red Eyes?

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A man rubbing his eyes after waking up.

Waking up to a pair of red eyes can be disconcerting. Not only do red eyes cause discomfort, but they can also be a sure sign that something may not be right with your ocular health. Early morning red eyes can indicate: 

  • Lack of sleep 
  • Allergies 
  • Dry eyes 
  • Infections 

If you wake up regularly with red eyes or experience other worrying symptoms, visit your optometrist for an eye exam to assess your eye’s overall health.  

Common Causes of Red Eyes in the Morning 

Red eyes are a common complaint among people of all ages. Certain prevalent culprits may be to blame when you look in the mirror to see bloodshot eyes at the start of your day. 

Lack of Sleep

The simplest explanation might be the most obvious—sleep deprivation. When your body does not get ample rest, your eyes often reflect this strain. This is because, during sleep, your eyes receive essential nutrients and lubrication. When you don’t sleep sufficiently, your eyes can become dry and irritated. 

Furthermore, bloodshot eyes are caused by the body’s reaction to tiredness, which constricts blood vessels to make them appear smaller, which can then lead to more noticeable redness.  

Other common eye symptoms resulting from lack of sleep include: 

  • Eye twitches 
  • Sensitivity to light 
  • Blurry vision 


Allergies are a common cause of red eyes, and the morning can be the peak time for symptoms. The overnight hours expose your eyes to allergens such as pet dander, dust, and pollen, causing inflammation and redness, also known as allergic conjunctivitis.  

The release of histamines during an allergic reaction can also cause temporary enlargement of the blood vessels in the eyes, giving them a red appearance and making them feel: 

  • Itchy 
  • Irritated 
  • Watery 

Dry Eyes

Dry eye syndrome can cause redness and discomfort. The eyes’ inability to produce enough tears or the tears evaporating too quickly can expose and irritate your corneas. When this occurs, redness is a typical result, which could be exacerbated during the night while you sleep. 

Other common symptoms of dry eye include: 

  • Grittiness 
  • Stinging or burning sensation 
  • Watery eyes 
  • Sensitivity to light 
  • Discomfort wearing contact lenses 

Eye Infections 

Infections like conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye, can be a more serious cause of red eyes. Pink eye results from inflammation within the clear layer of tissue that covers the whites of your eyes and the inside of your eyelids. It’s often accompanied by symptoms like: 

  • Itching 
  • Discharge 
  • Swelling of the eyelids 
  • Crusty eyes in the morning 

Impact on Eye Health

While red eyes can often be put down to benign causes, there are instances where they can signal more significant health concerns, including the potential for vision problems. 

Potential Risks & Complications 

Chronic red eyes can lead to corneal ulcers or an increased risk of eye infections. Consistently bloodshot eyes could also be a sign of an underlying condition. One such condition is glaucoma, which can damage the eye’s optic nerve and potentially result in vision loss.  

Thus, it is important to take red eyes seriously, especially if you’re experiencing additional symptoms or a change in your basic vision. 

A woman pulling her left lower eyelid to apply eye drops.

Remedies & Preventive Measures 

Thankfully, there are various steps you can take to address red eyes and prevent them from occurring. We’ll explore short and long-term strategies to keep your eyes clear and healthy, even at dawn. 

Eye Drops


Selecting eye drops designed for your specific ailment (allergies, dry eyes, etc.) can offer relief. Numerous over-the-counter options can help soothe and alleviate redness, but it’s best to choose preservative-free drops if you plan to use them frequently.  

Eye drops may provide instantaneous comfort, but if the issue persists, they should signal that you should seek further assistance from an optometrist. 

Proper Sleep Hygiene 

Improving your sleep environment and habits can drastically reduce red eyes in the morning. Making your bedroom a calm, dark, and cool space conducive to sleep can help to prevent sleep disturbances. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule can promote a consistent, healthy night’s rest. 

Allergy Management 

Identifying and managing your triggers is key if allergies are causing your itchy, red eyes. Over-the-counter or prescription allergy medications can help alleviate symptoms. Changing your environment, such as using dust mite-proof bedding or humidifiers, can also contribute to managing allergic reactions that affect your eyes. 

Consultation with an Optometrist 

If you frequently wake up with red eyes, visit your optometrist. They can help determine the cause of your symptoms and recommend a tailored regimen to keep your eyes bright and comfortable. This consultation can also lead to diagnosing underlying conditions and a personalized treatment plan. 

Find Red Eye Relief in Rancho Santa Margarita 

Red eyes are a common ailment that can arise from many causes, ranging from benign to potentially severe. While waking up with red eyes can initially seem like a minor nuisance, it is an important indicator of your overall ocular health. 

Remember, regular check-ups with an optometrist at Rancho Santa Margarita Optometry are pivotal to maintaining good eye health. Whether it’s a lack of sleep, allergies, dry eyes, or something more serious, the key to clear, bright, and healthy eyes lies in taking early and appropriate action. Schedule your next eye exam today.

Written by Total Vision

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