The Real Reason Why Rubbing Your Eyelids Feels So Good

When you're spending long amounts of time staring at a screen, struggling with allergies, or just plain tired, rubbing your eyes can feel super-satisfying. It's a tell-tale sign of sleepiness — even a baby will rub a chubby fist across their eyes when they're ready to nod off. But what makes this particular urge so gratifying?

Over the course of the day, your eyes naturally tend to dry out. According to Men's Health, when you rub them, you spread the tears around, helping to lubricate the eye. Pressing on the eyelid also releases oils, helping to further alleviate any dryness.

Rubbing the eye also stimulates the vagus nerve, the longest and most extensive cranial nerve in the body (via Healthline). Among other benefits, stimulating the vagus nerve helps to lower resting heart rate and blood pressure. This can make you feel more relaxed, and at night, gets you ready to drop off to sleep.

Is it safe to rub my eyes?

While rubbing your eyes can feel very rewarding, you shouldn't make a habit of it. According to Essilor News, rubbing your eyes with dirty hands can transfer all kinds of bacteria, exposing you to potential infections like pink eye. Too much pressure while rubbing can also damage the cornea, causing friction from minor irritants — or even retinal detachment. Some doctors assert that continuous rubbing of the eye can even cause keratoconus — a scary-sounding condition that can result in distorted vision (via American Academy of Ophthalmology).

If your eyes frequently feel tired and dry, you may want to check with your doctor to ensure that it isn't a symptom of a more serious issue. Allergies, hormone changes, antihistamines, and environmental factors can all make your eyes feel drier than usual (via Mayo Clinic). In the meantime, eye drops or artificial tears can provide temporary relief — and make sure you wash your hands before touching your eyes.