Is It Bad To Sleep With Wet Hair? Experts Share Their Hair Care & Styling Advice
Night showerers, gather. There's one notorious downside to an evening rinse that many—especially if you have longer hair that takes a while to dry—often complain about: Going to bed with wet hair. It's a habit born of necessity: Some of us simply cannot wait out the time between our nightly wash and bedtime and thus have to sleep with damp strands. (This is especially true if you air dry and loathe putting a blow dryer to your hair.) And yet, so many still feel somewhat guilty about this hair care habit.
Just mentioning that you frequently go to bed with wet hair will trigger aghast faces from most experts: It's something that is widely considered a no-go. But, c'mon, is it really that bad? And even if it's not ideal for strands, is there any way to make it better for the nights there's really no other option? Or are you—gasp—going to be forced into a life of morning showers for good?
Here, we answer your burning questions.
Is it bad to sleep on wet hair? What the experts say.
OK, there is some truth that sleeping with wet hair isn't the best way to treat hair. The main reason is that the structural integrity of hair weakens when wet, as cuticles naturally lift up when damp, making the hair more elastic, vulnerable, and prone to breakage. Along with that, there are also scalp concerns associated with sleeping with wet hair—as well as simple aesthetic issues.
"Simply put, hair is at its most vulnerable when wet. Sleeping with wet hair can lead to a host of problems for the scalp: unwanted bacteria, fungal infections, skin irritation, itchiness, dryness, redness, and dandruff," says hairstylist Miko Branch, co-founder of hair care brand Miss Jessie's Original. "Also, it can damage the hair cuticle, flatten strands, create an unpleasant hair odor (dampness mixed with natural sweat) and leave you with a matted mess of hair."
Essentially, the most concerning part about sleeping with your hair wet is that it leaves your hair open to damage, tangling, and splits. So if you are someone who perpetually wakes up to knotted, frizzy, and brittle strands, you may want to quit the night shower. And, too, if you are also someone who suffers from scalp concerns like irritation, flakes, and inflammation, you may also need to reevaluate your habit, as it may be the root cause you hadn't considered yet.
So sounds, ahem, not great. However, most stylists will also agree that there's certainly some nuance here. "I think something like this is case by case," says hairstylist Marcus Frances, an ambassador for hair care brand Better Natured. "Yes, when the hair is damp it usually is more fragile so the friction against your pillow can, not always, further weaken the hair causing split ends or breakage. But this tends to be a bigger concern for those who already have really damaged hair. If that's not you, you'll probably find you don't run into these issues."
Basically: if you find that it's not messing with your scalp, style, or strands, you can continue as normal, just with a few of these caveats.
How to safely sleep with wet hair.
So you've decided it's not always realistic to sleep on perfectly dry hair; well, there are ways to make sure you are caring for your hair while it's more fragile. Here, expert care tips to make sure your sleeping habits aren't messing with your strands:
One of the easiest ways to limit the amount you are sleeping on wet hair is to wet it less. Now, how much you shampoo your hair is a personal decision influenced by your scalp, hair type, and lifestyle, and for those with textured or curly hair, Branch suggests that you really should be limiting the amount that you get your hair wet. "Textured hair, in particular, is even more fragile as it tends to be dry. Therefore, curly hair should be washed less often–once or twice a week is perfect–with gentle cleansers and moisturizing conditioners," she says.
Add as much buffer time between your rinse and sleep as possible.
Be honest with yourself: Is the fact that you're going to bed with soaking hair due to the fact that you literally have no other time to shower than right before bed, or is it true that you could have rinsed earlier and just put it off? If the former: Life happens and so do busy schedules; you'll receive no judgment here. If the latter: Consider inching up your shower into earlier in the evening.
This will give your hair time to air dry, so even if your strands aren't perfectly free of moisture, they're better than sopping wet. "I would love to mention that sleeping with 'wet' hair isn't great, but 'damp' hair, where there is some air and dryness throughout the hair, is fine," says Frances.
Branch agrees: "Always take a few minutes and try to let the hair dry before going to sleep—either air dry (the best dry), use a microfiber towel to blot excess water, or use a diffuser on a blow dryer set to low to get out some of the moisture."
Sleep with a silk pillow, scarf, or cap.
Silk sleeping accessories aren't just luxe-looking (although, they're definitely that too); they can also help keep your strands strong, hydrated, and smooth: "Sleep with a silk or satin pillowcase, headscarf, or cap, which allows hair to slide as you toss and turn while sleeping. Unlike cotton, silk and satin prevents friction (which leads to hair pulling, tugging, stretching, breaking, and tangling), and these smooth fabrics help retain the hair's natural oils," says Branch.
Apply a leave-in to protect it from physical damage.
One of the main duties of a leave-in is to protect hair from physical damage. Essentially, they coat the strand with a protective layer of nutrients, oils, and emollients that keep hair from snagging and tangling.
Embrace the bedhead.
One concern is that sleeping on wet hair just means you're waking up to hair that needs to be restyled with hot tools. Not true: "For someone who likes to keep their natural texture, sleeping with damp hair can actually be great, style-wise. There's something about when you sleep on your hair that creates a more natural version to your texture that is hard to replicate with tools or products," says Frances.
This may just take some experimenting to figure out what products you need to apply and how best to "style it" as you sleep. For example, for those with very loose waves who are looking to amp up texture, using braids may be more beneficial; those with curls may employ the 'plopping method' with a silk scarf or water-wicking T-shirt to really get the hair to spring.
Going to bed with wet hair may not be the best choice for some of us (if you find that you have damage or scalp issues), so in those cases we do recommend figuring out a new wash schedule so your hair is better cared for. However, if you haven't noticed a problem yet, you're probably fine: Just add a few extra hair care steps before you sleep and you'll be good to go.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.