Here's what dermatologists really think.
For basically as long as I can remember, I’ve been a night showerer and, therefore, also generally a wet hair sleeper. But whenever I admit to this habit, there’s always someone who visibly recoils in disgust, barely hiding the fact that they now see me as less of a human being. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but the opinions are strong.
“This is one of those religious areas [in dermatology],” Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. People have really strong beliefs about this! Some find that going to bed with wet hair is damaging to hair and, maybe, they think it’s just plain gross. Others, like me, swear that going to bed with damp hair doesn’t have a huge effect on the strength of their hair and, perhaps, actually contributes to some nice wavy texture in the morning.
And it’s true that “everyone’s hair responds differently,” Carol Cheng, M.D., assistant clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the Acne Procedure Clinic at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, tells SELF. So what you notice about your wet hair could very well be different from what your friend notices.
In general, the experts SELF spoke to said the health risks of going to sleep with wet hair are pretty minimal. But depending on how fragile your hair is and other issues you might be dealing with (like dandruff), you may be better off waiting for your hair to fully dry before hitting the hay.
Does going to sleep with wet hair cause breakage?
When hair is wet it is generally more prone to breakage, Dr. Cheng says. That’s because, when wet, the hair cuticle (the outer protective layer of the hair shaft) opens and makes the hair stretchier and more brittle. “When the hair cuticle is open it can stretch more, so it can stretch in ways that can make the hair break more easily,” she says. That might happen if you’re brushing your hair while it’s still wet or, yes, if you’re naturally moving around while you sleep.
How much that really matters depends on the natural state of your hair, which is determined by some other factors that will be unique to you. Those factors include genetics, Dr. Cheng says, but also how often you heat style your hair, whether or not you chemically or colour treat your hair, and just in general how much damage it’s already sustained.
So, ultimately, it comes down to you and your own hair preferences. If you feel like going to bed with your hair damp causes breakage, that might be very true for you and it might be worth thinking about changing your habits. But if you don’t notice any ill effects, you can totally keep doing it.
“Do what feels best for you,” Dr. Stevenson says. If you, like me, are someone who knows they prefer going to bed with damp hair, note that she adds, “I can reassure you that it’s fine to go to bed with your hair damp.”
There are some possible health effects to watch out for.
In addition to the possibility for hair breakage, going to sleep with really damp hair could contribute to some other health issues. In particular, the wetness of your hair coupled with a damp pillow could create the perfect moist, warm environment for yeast to flourish, including the yeast associated with dandruff, Dr. Cheng explains. If you’re already prone to dandruff, know that consistently going to bed with damp hair might contribute to that.
How to sleep more safely with wet hair:
Make sure it’s not sopping wet.
Let’s be clear: Your hair shouldn’t be so wet that it leaves your pillow damp, Dr. Stevenson says. Do your best to let your hair air dry at least a bit before going to bed to reduce your risk for damage and dandruff.
Switch up your shower timing.
It’s not like you’ll go to bed with damp hair one night and wake up the next morning with your hair falling out all over the place. The kind of breakage that comes with sleeping with wet hair only develops after doing so chronically, Dr. Cheng says. So, if you can, try not to only sleep with wet hair and try not to do it every single night. But doing it once in a while isn’t likely to cause problems.
Don’t wear it up.
Going to bed with wet hair actually isn’t the biggest hair/sleeping mistake people make—it’s going to bed with their hair up in a tight hairstyle, Dr. Stevenson explains. Some people find that putting their hair up in a loose bun helps give them curls or waves when they wake up. But consistently wearing tighter hairstyles (especially in your sleep when you may unknowingly put even more pressure on the hair) can pull too much on the hair follicle and cause real damage—even more so if your hair is wet and already prone to breakage.
Avoid other sources of hair damage.
The degree to which going to bed with wet hair will cause damage depends partly on how much damage your hair has already sustained. So, if you’re someone who prefers to sleep with damp hair, try to avoid introducing other sources of hair damage, like colour treating your hair or frequent heat styling.
Try silk pillowcases or hair wraps.
Silk pillowcases and hair wraps are marketed as being really good for your skin and hair. The thinking here is that these fabrics are much smoother than the usual cotton pillowcases, which means your hair movement while you sleep isn’t as aggressive. “Because the hair moves more naturally and its interaction with the material is different, it can be helpful,” Dr. Stevenson says. But this isn’t something that’s been thoroughly researched so, as usual, your mileage may vary here.
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