ELI5. When I’m extremely tired why do my eyes burn in a sleepy way?

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ELI5. When I’m extremely tired why do my eyes burn in a sleepy way?

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When you get tired, your eyes move around less (called saccade movement) and you blink less. The combination means the surface of your eye and the very sensitive tissues of the conjunctiva and lacrimal punctums (upper and lower) become dry. Any movement that does happen in that dry state causes friction and abrasion, making the problem worse.

Gently rubbing our eyes helps redistribute the natural fluids that are supposed to lubricate things, giving temporary relief.