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How to Sleep on Wet Hair Without Damaging It

Photo by Chakrapong Worathat / EyeEm/Getty Images

It happens to the best of us: You shower just before bed, you pass out, and then you wake up with hair that's crimpy, awkward, and tangled–basically it's a guaranteed way to achieve the ultimate bedhead. But not only can overnight wet-to-dry hair look unruly, it can also be damaging to hair health.

While the old wives' tale that you can catch a common cold from sleeping on wet hair has been disproven, sleeping on a wet head of hair does provide an ideal environment for fungus to grow, increasing your risk of developing fungal infections (a la dandruff) on the scalp. “Hair is at its most fragile when it's going from wet to dry,” says Christine Thompson a master colorist at the multi-city hair salon Spoke & Weal. Additionally, she says mechanical damage can occur from the friction of a pillowcase. Repeatedly tossing and turning on wet hair can lead to hair breakage and brittle strands if done repeatedly.

Sometimes, though, sleeping on wet hair is unavoidable, so if it's going to happen, it's a good idea to know a few of the best practices to keep hair both healthy and looking good the next morning. Below are a few of our top tips for how to sleep with wet hair.

1. Invest in a silk pillowcase.

Fungus tends to thrive in warm environments and a wet cotton pillowcase is essentially an ideal breeding ground. If you are going to sleep on wet hair, try to do so on a silk pillowcase, which is antimicrobial. Additionally, silk creates less friction with the hair. That means less frizz, less bedhead, and less hair damage overall. 

2. Try to get your hair as dry as possible. 

Do your best not to go to bed with sopping wet hair. Even if you use a silk or satin pillowcase, it's hard for hair to dry completely when you sleep on it from its wettest state. Try to factor in some time to allow for air-drying. Or briefly run a hair dryer through the hair to get it partially dry. Dell also recommends wrapping the hair up in a microfiber hair towel to maintain the integrity of your hair and help it dry faster.

3. Sleep with your hair down. 

“If you need to sleep with wet hair it’s not ideal to tie hair up using any sort of band that creates pressure,” says Dell Miller, another master colorist at Spoke & Weal. Pulling wet hair into a tight hairstyle like braids or twists can help it to look better in the morning, but if you're sleeping on a cotton or synthetic pillowcase, you are essentially straining hair strands that are already in their weakest state. 

Instead, Dell says, “Laying the hair nicely above the pillow or styling with a loose braid would be a better option.” 

4. Style it with a scrunchie. 

If you have curly hair, wavy hair, or straight hair you may want to consider sleeping with it loosely pulled up onto the top of the head with a scrunchie. This will help to maximize the chances of keeping your curl or wave pattern intact by pulling it up and out from under the weight of the head. Scrunchies are better for this because they have fabric covering the elastic, which is ultimately gentler on the hair and creates more protection against breakage. It also minimizes the chance of developing any noticeable dents.  

Once you wake up, try using a diffuser to help reshape any limp curls. If your hair is wavy, try running a blow dryer on low through the hair to make sure it's fully dry. Then top it with a bit of volumizing spray to give the roots a boost.

5. Don’t forget about the products.  

If you are going to sleep on wet hair, this is a good time to use a leave-in product like the MARC ANTHONY TRUE PROFESSIONAL Bye Bye Frizz Heat Protectant Leave-in Conditioner. This lightweight leave-in hair care product uses the protein keratin to protect the hair cuticle from frizz, dryness, and breakage–all top concerns associated with sleeping on wet hair. 

Even if you take all the precautions, Dell says you really, really shouldn’t ever sleep on wet hair at all if you have extensions or your hair is processed or compromised in any way. “The only time I would say you could get away with sleeping with wet hair without any damage is if your hair is exceptionally strong and hasn't been treated,” he says. 

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About the author
Cortney Clift
Cortney is a New York-based freelance writer who has written about beauty and wellness for more than six years. She was previously the senior writer and special projects editor at Brit + Co where she covered a wide range of news and lifestyle topics.
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Article Last Updated June 9, 2020 12:00 AM