Is It Bad To Sleep With Wet Hair? Here’s What The Experts Say.
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Washing your hair at night may mean saving some time in the morning, but sleeping with wet hair may be more trouble than it’s worth. Besides a soggy pillowcase, you could be setting yourself up for both hair breakage and a scalp infection. We spoke with two experts about the potential risks of sleeping with wet hair and what you can do to minimize them if you really can’t avoid that night-time shower.
Is It Bad to Sleep with Wet Hair?
Joshua Zeichner, MD, M.D., F.A.A.D., board-certified dermatologist, and Celestine Gitau, a certified trichologist, both agree that sleeping with wet hair should be avoided. “It can be harmful to the hair itself, as well as the scalp,” Zeichner tells Sleepopolis. “When the hair is wet, it is at higher risk for breakage. This includes friction from the head rubbing against the pillow when you sleep.”
Then there’s the issue of that moist environment. “Sleeping with wet hair increases the risk of bacterial and fungal contamination on your bedding,” says Gitau. That contamination can then transfer to your scalp and face. In this case, it’s not the wet hair itself that’s the problem, but the fact that it fosters a warm, damp environment for potentially problematic things to grow.
Risks of Sleeping with Wet Hair
Infection and hair damage can come in a few forms. Here’s what you’re risking when you snooze with wet hair.
The warm and moist environment created between your wet hair and bedding is a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, including:
- Malassezia. While this fungus normally lives on the scalp and skin, Zeichner says it can overgrow significantly in humid or moist environments. It’s an overgrowth that can “ultimately lead to flaking of the skin and itching, known as seborrheic dermatitis (1),” he says.
- Staphylococcus. “This bacteria can invade hair follicles, leading to a superficial infection known as folliculitis,” says Zeichner. “Here, red, inflamed bumps, and pus pimples develop around the hair follicles.”
- Aspergillus. This type of mold can be found indoors and out, and Gitau says a damp pillow from sleeping with wet hair could serve as a welcoming environment for growth. That can be an issue for people with weak immune systems or respiratory issues (2).
- Scalp ringworm. Also known as tinea capitis, ringworm is a fungal infection on the scalp (3). The fungi can get into the hair follicle itself, making it brittle and prone to breaking, resulting in patchy spots. This contagious infection also causes an itchy, red, ring-shaped rash.
“Hair is at its weakest when it’s wet,” says Gitau. It can stretch roughly 30 percent of its original length, but when it goes beyond that, you risk irreparable damage (4). Rolling around while you sleep could mean you’re inadvertently stretching your wet hair farther than it can safely go, not to mention increasing the likelihood of major tangles.
Unproven Risks of Sleeping with Wet Hair
Forget what you’ve heard — sleeping with wet hair doesn’t increase your likelihood of catching a cold. The common cold is typically caused by a virus, not wet hair (5), so illness isn’t a potential drawback.
Acne, on the other hand, could be another unpleasant side effect of sleeping with wet hair. While there is no specific evidence linking going to bed with wet hair and an acne breakout, it’s certainly possible. Gitau tells Sleepopolis that the damp environment created on pillows and bedding from wet hair leads to the growth of bacteria that can be transferred onto the skin while we sleep, which might lead to acne breakouts.
Tips for Sleeping with Wet Hair
A good way to avoid the potential for hair damage and scalp infections is obvious — try not to go to bed with wet hair. If you have time, Zeichner recommends drying it completely. At the very least, spend a few minutes drying the roots as much as possible. If you have to shower and you have limited time before you need to get into bed, here are a few tips to minimize potential problems:
- Give yourself a buffer. Try to give yourself as much time as possible between washing your hair and getting between the sheets. The less water in your hair, the lower the chances of damage.
- Use a microfiber towel. Wrapping your hair in an absorbent towel can help you get most of the water out.
- Coat wet hair with a protective product. In the shower, make sure you’re using conditioner, which helps reduce friction, makes detangling much easier, and helps seal the hair cuticle. Before bed, you might also try slicking on a bit of coconut oil, which may help minimize the potential for breakage in wet hair (4).
- Tie it back. Gitau advises pulling back wet hair into a loose twist or braid.
- Wear a hair scarf. While this is only recommended for damp (not sopping wet) hair, a hair scarf can help prevent friction between your head and pillowcase for less damage.
- Sleep with a silk pillowcase. Silk pillowcases probably won’t help wet hair dry any faster, but the smooth surface may offer a similar benefit to the hair scarf — minimizing friction and lessening damage to the hair.
- Wash your bedding frequently. Make sure you’re changing or washing your pillowcase at least weekly.
Is it OK to sleep with wet hair once in a while?
While our experts generally advise against sleeping with wet hair to limit damage to the hair and the likelihood of scalp infections, it’s not the end of the world if you occasionally climb into bed straight out of the shower. Still, if you experience any unusual scalp symptoms after sleeping with wet hair, make sure to speak with your doctor.
Is it better to sleep with your hair up or down when it’s wet?
If you have to sleep with wet hair, Gitau recommends pulling it back. Just do so gently — remember, wet hair is more prone to breakage, so avoid extra-tight hairstyles and stick with loose twists and braids.
Does sleeping with wet hair cause hair loss?
Sleeping with wet hair can cause hair breakage, which isn’t quite the same thing as hair loss. Hair loss refers to an absence of hair growing from the scalp, while hair breakage is an actual break in the hair shaft and doesn’t always occur at the root. Still, “rubbing wet hair against your bedding increases the chances of hair tangles and hair breakage,” says Gitau, which is something you want to avoid.
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
While you might not catch a cold if you go to bed with wet hair, you could be opening the door to hair damage and a number of potential scalp infections. Try tweaking your shower routine so you aren’t regularly sleeping with wet hair, remember to wash your bedding regularly, and if you absolutely must shower at night, spend a few minutes drying your roots before hopping into bed. If you’re experiencing any scalp symptoms, make sure to see your doctor.
Joshua Zeichner. Personal Interview. (August 2024).
Celestine Gitau. Personal Interview. (August 2024).
- Kim JY, Dao H. Physiology, Integument. [Updated 2024 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554386/
- Aspergillosis. Cleveland Clinic. 2024. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14770-aspergillosis
- Tinea capitis. DermNet. 2020. https://dermnetnz.org/topics/tinea-capitis
- Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology. 2015 Jan-Mar;7(1):2-15. doi: 10.4103/0974-7753.153450. PMID: 25878443; PMCID: PMC4387693.
- Common Cold. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/common-cold