Is It Bad to Sleep With Wet Hair? Here's What We Know

Updated 11/25/19

Aliyev Alexei Sergeevich / Getty Images

There are some things we’ve heard over and over again to the point that we’ve accepted them as universal truths. Never pop a pimple, for one (up for debate); J.Lo doesn’t age, for another (fact). Falling somewhere between J.Lo and spot-squeezing is sleeping on wet hair. When we were younger, our mothers chided us for doing this in fear of catching a cold; now that we’re older, it still somehow feels wrong—like our hairstylists would slap us on the wrists if they somehow found out. Tired of living with the guilt, we decided to put an end to the debate once and for all and go straight to our favorite sources: science and hair experts.

According to trichologist Dominic Burg and celebrity hairstylist John Ruggiero, sleeping with wet hair will not cause a cold, but it's not good for your hair because it can lead to tangles and cause damage over time. Keep scrolling to see what else have to say about sleeping with wet hair.

Meet the Expert

  • Dominic Burg is a trichologist and the chief scientist of évolis Professional.
  • John Ruggiero is a celebrity hairstylist who has worked on individuals such as GiGi Hadid and Scarlett Johansson.

Does Sleeping With Wet Hair Make You Sick?

The whole idea of getting sick by sleeping on wet hair stems from the idea that you can catch a cold from physically being cold. But as any scientist will tell you, the common cold is a virus, which means it has nothing to do with how cold you might be. "Getting sick or getting a cold is the result of exposure to a virus and subsequent infection, most commonly a rhinovirus," Burg says. "The short answer is no. This is a myth." So although anecdotal evidence from everyone and their moms may suggest you can get a cold from sleeping with wet hair, it's more likely that the person had contracted the virus beforehand.

Is Sleeping With Wet Hair Bad for My Hair?

But what about the actual health of your hair? Can sleeping on it wet affect that? We took our query to Ruggiero. “It's not a good idea, in the sense that it'll dry funny and be unruly and knotty when you wake up, causing more work for yourself in the morning,” he says.

But a few tangles in the morning isn't the only concern. According to Burg, sleeping with your hair wet can eventually lead to breakage. "When our hair is wet, it is in a fragile state," Burg explains. "Wet hair swells up, weakening the internal structure and reducing resilience, which decreases the force required to break the hair. In addition, when hair is wet, the friction between neighboring strands is increased, which leads to increased forces occurring between the strands when they are brushed or rubbed. While the act of sleeping with wet hair may not put extra stress on the strands per se, sleeping with your hair out while it is wet may lead to scenarios where hair fibers are susceptible to more tangling than usual, particularly if you are a restless sleeper, which may lead to more breakage the next time it is brushed." Yikes. So what should you do instead? Ideally, you should wait until your hair is dry before you go to sleep. But because that's not possible for some for a number of reasons, Burg and Ruggiero have a few suggestions for how to best do it.

What Is the Best Way to Sleep With Wet Hair?

If you insist on sleeping on wet hair, Burg suggests trying to get it as a dry as you can first. "A microfiber towel can make short work of this when used alongside a quick finishing with a blow dryer on a cool setting," he says. He also suggests tying the hair up with a silk ribbon, hair towel, or scrunchie and sleeping on a silk pillowcase to reduce friction against the hair.

Both Burg and Ruggiero also recommend applying a deep conditioning treatment to treat your hair while you sleep. “I would tell my client to comb through with a little leave-in conditioner or a detangling spray, loosely braid her hair, then put it into a bun on top of her head,” he says. “That way, it'll stay untangled and have a great wave in it when she wakes up.”

Products to Use When Sleeping on Wet Hair

évolis Professional Promote mask
évolis Professional Promote Mask $40
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If you're going to go to bed with wet hair, Burg says why not treat it at the same time? "High-quality masks such as the évolis Professional Promote Mask ($40), which uses fortifying ingredients such as keratin, absorb into the hair and dry as a soft shell, treating your hair overnight without damaging your pillows." He says to apply sparingly if you're short on time, or if you have 20 minutes to spare before bed, a thicker application will allow for deeper penetration of the product and do wonders for your hair while you sleep.

Aquis hair towel
Aquis Original Long Hair Towel $25
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"If you have a hair turban that is comfortable to sleep in, apply the mask before wrapping and going to bed," Burg says. "Wearing the hair in a contained manner rather than loose and prone to tangling would be a better idea."

Kevin Murphy Un.Tangled Leave-In Conditioner Detangler
Kevin Murphy Un.Tangled Leave-In Conditioner Detangler $29
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This detangling spray uses Australian fruit extracts to strengthen, antioxidants and vitamins to protect, and lactic acid to smooth the strands. Bonus: It doubles as a heat protection spray so you can also use it before rough drying your hair before bed with a blowdryer.

The Final Takeaway

Despite the myths, going to bed with wet hair will not cause a cold. However, hair experts agree that it's always best to sleep with thoroughly dried hair to protect your strands. If you prefer to sleep with wet hair, apply a deep conditioner to treat your hair while you sleep, then wrap it with a protective fabric or style it in a braid to prevent potential damage.

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