Is it bad to sleep with wet hair? The answer may surprise you

By Fiona Embleton

Photo: Getty

While sleeping with wet hair won't give you a cold, it can result in some serious split ends. But if you really need to, these are the three tips to follow

All products featured on Vogue are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.


For many, the idea of washing and blow drying their hair is overkill in summer. After all, it’s the season of low-maintenance beauty routines when speed and fuss-free styles rule supreme.

There’s no denying the convenience of showering before bed and sleeping with damp hair. It’s even appealing if you try to achieve undone ‘Scandi waves,’ as wet hair worn overnight in braids easily creates this Bohemian iteration of beach waves. But is your waterlogged hair paying the price?

Does sleeping with wet hair cause breakage?

The easy answer is yes. Unfair as it might seem on your busy schedule, regularly sleeping with wet hair can impact the health of your strands and scalp.

"Wet hair is typically weaker, more fragile, and susceptible to damage from brushing," says Patrik Lernberger, celebrity hairstylist and co-founder of Lernberger Stafsing skincare and haircare. This idea is backed up by a GHD study, where scientists proved that hair can absorb up to 30 per cent of its weight in water.

What's going on behind the scenes goes a little like this: when wet, the cuticle (the outer layer of hair) opens, swells, and lifts, making the hair strand stretchier and more prone to breakage.

"This is especially true when you toss and turn on your pillow," Lernberger adds. "As well as making hair stretch, this action causes friction, which can result in split ends, frizz, and overall weaker hair."

Hitting the pillow with wet hair also puts you at risk of developing itchy, acne-like bumps and other skin issues on your scalp. "The moist environment between the pillow and your wet hair provides an ideal environment for fungi, bacteria, and a yeast called Malessezia to thrive, so you can also increase the risk of dandruff," Lernberger warns.

Sleeping with wet hair in a bun isn't the answer

In fact, pulling your soggy strands up into a tight bun could make matters worse.

"Tying your hair in a tight bun can apply pressure to the scalp and create tension on the hair shaft when lying down," Lernberger notes. The worst culprit, he says, "is an elastic hair band, which can lead to breakage over time, especially if your hair is already weak or prone to breakage. It may also cause tangles and knots, which puts additional stress on your strands."

All of which is opposite to the desired effect of sleep on your hair follicles. "Sleep is an important step in a successful hair health routine," says Lernberger. In the same way that skin relies on a good night's sleep for renewal, rest is vital for the creation of the protein keratin, as well as the release of the hormone melatonin, which has been shown to improve hair growth.

How to safely sleep with wet hair if you have to shower before bed

Occasionally there is no other option but to sleep with soaked strands, and you shouldn't feel guilty about that. But there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage:

  1. Apply a leave-in product to protect against snags
    "First of all, moisturise your hair immediately after washing by applying a leave-in conditioner or a small amount of hair oil to the mid-lengths and ends," Lernberger advises. Lernberger Stafsing BB Cream Leave-In Treatment is an all-in-one balm that prevents tangling and infuses strands with beneficial fatty acids and vitamins. While Bjorn Axen Hair Oil Smooth & Shine is especially good at coating thick, curly, and Afro hair with protective organic argan oil, sunflower oil, and vitamin E.
  1. Dry 70 per cent of your hair
    If you really need to go to bed after showering, remember that damp hair isn't as prone to breakage as sopping wet strands. "Consider spending a bit of time using a microfibre towel or T-shirt to blot excess moisture from your hair before lying down," says Lernberger. "To minimise breakage, let your hair air dry before going to bed or use a hairdryer on a low setting if you are in a rush." Dry 70 per cent of your hair, focusing on the roots as that area is closest to your scalp and has the most contact with your pillowcase.
  1. Sleep with a silk pillowcase
    "Silk is a softer fabric than cotton, so it will reduce friction and help prevent tangles and breakage," says Lernberger. Silk is also less absorbent, so it won't strip away the hair's natural oils. Good options include The Beauty Sleeper Silk Pillow and Slip Queen Silk Pillowcase.