The Oft-Forgotten Yet Critical Thing That Could Be Affecting Your Hair Growth
Jamie Schneider is the Associate Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and health. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Hair loss is common yet complex. That's because a slew of factors can contribute to increased thinning and shedding: things like too-tight hairstyling, scalp inflammation, aging, and, yes, sleep—or rather, a lack thereof.
We're likely not the first to tell you that beauty sleep is very much real, but let it be known (again) that proper shut-eye affects nearly every beauty function, including healthy hair growth. Point being: While getting to the root of hair loss is a bit of a dance, sleep can play a significant role.
How poor sleep affects hair loss.
It all boils down to cortisol: Come bedtime, you experience a drop in the infamous stress hormone (and an uptick in melatonin, which has some impressive benefits for skin cell repair), but without proper shut-eye, your body is more likely to increase cortisol levels, which, if the poor sleep is chronic, can snowball pretty quickly. In other words, a lack of sleep makes us stressed—and this can lead to stress-induced hair loss.
The link between stress and hair loss is well-documented—so much so, it has its own diagnosis: a medical condition known as telogen effluvium. The stress pushes the follicles into a dormant phase (known as the telogen phase), which can cause those hairs to fall out. It's not usually permanent (more in a moment), and it's incredibly common.
Time and again we talk about how important managing stress is for hair care, but you might not trace the origin back to poor sleep. Of course, lack of zzz's might not be the only factor contributing to stress, but let's not put it on the back burner, either.
What to do about it.
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Something to know about stress-induced hair loss: "Once the stressors are managed, the hair will subsequently respond by not shedding further and eventually regrow," board-certified dermatologist Christine M. Shaver, M.D., at the Bernstein Medical Center for Hair Restoration in New York City, told us about the condition. It doesn't happen overnight—the process may take one to three months, or Shaver says it can take one to two years after the stressor for you to completely grow back your full mane. But the kicker here is to focus on optimizing your sleep routine.
However, the advice to simply get more sleep! (along with its equally frustrating cousin, don't stress!) is, quite understandably, not helpful. I won't sit here and tell you the road to dreamland is an easy one; it's not, but starting from somewhere—anywhere!—is half the battle.
Here, a few ways to optimize your sleep:
- Shut off the screens: Wavelengths of blue light can throw off the body's natural circadian rhythm. Your brain and body need some time to transition into sleep mode, which is why many experts recommend you stop scrolling (or, at the very least, invest in blue-light-blocking tools) one to two hours before bed.
- Have a stress-relieving practice before bed: Just as a lack of sleep ramps up cortisol, increased cortisol levels can keep you from drifting off. Find something to ease your mind before slipping into bed—whether meditation, breathwork, reading, or journaling does the trick.
- Increase your hours little by little: "I encourage people to try to add 30 minutes a night [until they've reached that seven- to eight-hour mark]. Don't try to add three hours at once because it's too extreme," says double board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist Amy Wechsler, M.D., on an episode of Clean Beauty School. Achieving smaller, 30-minute thresholds feels more attainable (and actionable), but know that you may need to visit a specialist if you're really struggling.
This list does not (by any means) include everything you can do to enhance your sleep schedule. See here for our full list of ways you can improve the quality of your sleep.
Sleep is essential to overall well-being—and in the case of hair loss, it plays a significant role. It's something we may know instinctively, but it bears repeating: With a lack of sleep, your body is more likely to increase cortisol levels, which, if constant, can lead to stress-induced hair loss.