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Is it Really That Bad to Sleep With Wet Hair? Experts Settle the Debate Once and For All

The last thing many of us want to do after a nighttime shower is dry our hair. Even if it isn’t normally a daunting task, when you’re exhausted, reaching for your hairdryer just isn’t as appealing as climbing into a comfy bed to catch some much-needed ‘zzzs—sopping wet hair and all. But just how bad is sleeping with wet hair?

sleeping with wet hair

Photo: Marcel Mayer

We’ve all heard the cautionary tales of this bad beauty habit, and unfortunately, we’re here to tell you that sleeping with wet hair does indeed come with hair and scalp issues. Pushing through your tiredness to dry your hair completely is simply much better for you in the long run.

Here, the experts share the five main reasons why you actually should avoid sleeping with your hair wet, and give their advice on what to do for times when you might not have any other choice. Read on and learn more below. Your scalp and hair will thank you for it later.

The Effects of Sleeping With Wet Hair

The bad outweighs the short-term satisfaction when it comes to sleeping with your hair wet, which is why experts strongly recommend dying your hair, either with a hair dryer or letting it air dry completely before going to bed. They list these five main side effects to consider:

Hair Breakage

All experts agree that the number one reason why you shouldn’t sleep with your hair wet is because it can contribute to hair breakage. “Wet hair fibers are more fragile and can only sustain so much manipulation,” explains certified trichologist Bridgette Hill. “The friction created between wet hair and fabric while sleeping can cause fissures and tears on the hair shaft.”

“Wet hair tends to be more fragile because water temporarily breaks hydrogen bonds in the protein structure of hair strands,” adds Hadley King, MD, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. “This increases elasticity, which can make the hair more prone to breakage.”

King goes on to say this is especially true for specific hair types, such as straight or wavy hair. With curly and textured hair, she says that increased elasticity can actually have the inverse effect and make hair less prone to breakage. “Hair structure is slightly weaker where it bends, curls, or coils,” she explains. “When the hair is wet, the curl shapes soften so there are fewer points of weakness.”

Disruption to the Microbiome

A balanced microbiome is essential to promote healthy hair growth and maintain your overall hair health. When you sleep with your hair wet, Hill says you might increase the amount of sweat on your head. That combined with sebum, product buildup, and yeast can disrupt the microbiome and hinder hair follicle health and function.

Bacteria Growth

Marty Harper, celebrity hairstylist and Fekkai Five ambassador, says that sleeping with your hair wet might encourage bacteria to grow on both your scalp and in your strands. King agrees and explains that damp pillows or bedding could become a breeding ground for mold, which will lead to a number of scalp and hair concerns. Which leads us to our next point…

Possibility of Breakouts

One of those scalp concerns includes breakouts on your scalp. Hill explains that leaving hair wet can lock unwanted moisture and promote the growth of bacteria that cause scalp acne, which can also be itchy or sore. And worst case scenario: scalp acne can turn into scalp infections.

Can Worsen Dandruff, Dermatitis, & Other Scalp Conditions

As mentioned previously, King says that sleeping with wet hair can create a warm damp environment that bacteria and yeast can thrive in. This can potentially lead to folliculitis or worsening of seborrheic dermatitis. Hill agrees and says this is especially concerning for those who are already dealing with dandruff, psoriasis, and eczema, as sleeping with wet hair can exacerbate those concerns.

Tips For Sleeping With Wet Hair

If you’ve ever slept with your hair wet after a night shower, don’t panic. King says that unless you’re doing it regularly, your hair and your scalp should be fine for the most part; she just encourages everyone to not make it a frequent habit. “This isn’t likely to be very problematic unless there is a lot of head movement, tossing, and/or turning,” she says. “I would not expect this to result in large amounts of hair damage.”
But for future reference (because life happens and it’s sometimes unavoidable), there are certain things you can do to minimize the negative side effects of sleeping with wet hair. First, consider what you’re sleeping on. King recommends using hair products that increase slippage or sleeping on satin or silk pillowcases, like ones from Slip or Brooklinen, to decrease friction as you sleep.

Next, Hill says to consider styling your hair in a way that allows oxygen to flow through the hair to the scalp, and prevents tangling and matting while you sleep. For straight hair, she recommends styling hair in plaits or loose braids if you’re going for waves. Harper says you’ll want to work with damp hair at the very least and recommends prepping hair with nourishing products like the Fekkai Super Strength Protein Power Bond Mist, adding that you can wrap your hair around your head, secured with either bobby pins or a silk scarf, if you want to keep your hair looking straight the next morning.

Those with curly or coily textures can benefit from pineappling the hair, says Hills, but the options are almost endless. “Twisting the hair in large sections, pin curls, two large braids or plaits—you can be creative,” says Hill. “But refrain from ponytails.”

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