It can seem like there are a lot of dos and don’ts to consider after a workout. From the right stretches to the optimal post-exercise snack to even what to do with your hair, it can feel like an overwhelming number of decisions to make, right?
Well, we’re here to help simplify things. If you’re the type to wash your hair at night after exercising and have been wondering if it’s bad to sleep with wet hair afterward, fear not: We’ve rounded up expert advice so you can make the right call for you.
Read on to find out what’s at risk if you don’t dry your hair before bed, plus ways to minimize the damage if you’re pressed for time or just too tired to pull out the blow-dryer.
Is It Bad to Sleep with Wet Hair?
The verdict: It’s not good to go to bed with wet hair. While all the dermatologists we spoke with agreed that it’s certainly not the worst thing you could do (skipping washing your face would be worse, for example), it’s still not something they’d advise if you can avoid it.
“Post-exercise, it's advisable to ensure your hair is dry before hitting the sack,” says Alexis Stephens, DO, a dermatologist and the founder of Parkland Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in Coral Springs, Florida. “Wet hair is more fragile and prone to damage. Sleeping with wet hair can lead to increased friction against the pillow, causing breakage and weakening of the hair shaft. Moreover, a moist scalp can be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus, potentially leading to scalp issues.”
Risks of Sleeping with Wet Hair
While it might seem harmless to hop into bed with sopping strands (your hair is clean, after all), it can have unintended drawbacks, which can vary depending on your hair type, how healthy it is, and if you have any scalp conditions, Dr. Stephens says.
“For those with robust hair and scalp health, the occasional night with damp locks might not cause significant damage,” Dr. Stephens explains. “However, for individuals with sensitive scalps or brittle hair, it’s a riskier practice. Prolonged moisture can exacerbate existing scalp conditions or contribute to hair breakage.”
According to Dr. Stephens, sleeping with wet strands can result in a few primary concerns for your hair:
Fungal infections and scalp irritation: A moist scalp environment can promote fungal growth, leading to conditions like dandruff or dermatitis (skin or scalp rash or irritation).
Hair breakage and damage: Wet hair is more elastic and prone to breaking, especially when it’s rubbed against a pillow as you toss and turn throughout the night.
Hygral fatigue: Repeated swelling and contracting of hair cuticles due to an oversaturation of moisture in the hair (aka over-conditioning) can weaken hair strands over time.
But hair breakage and flaking aren’t your only concerns—the risks of sleeping with wet hair extend to your skin, too.
“Wet hair means a wet pillow, which means your face will be wet and the product in your hair will leach onto your skin, possibly causing irritation and acne,” says Mona Gohara, MD, a dermatologist and an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. “Conditioners, for example, usually attract moisture intentionally because you want that for your hair, but you don't necessarily want that type of humectant on your face, which could clog pores and cause acne.”
In other words, when you sleep with wet hair, your hair products inadvertently become face products, which may be less than optimal for your skincare goals.
Lauren Penzi, MD, a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York City, agrees: “Sleeping with wet hair creates a damp environment for the pillow and the scalp that can contribute to the potential overgrowth of fungus or bacteria or both,” she says. “An overgrowth of fungus and bacteria can also cause issues on your face or body. For example, you can develop fungal acne on the face, chest, back, or a condition called pityriasis versicolor that is due to overgrowth of yeast on the skin that presents with discoloration, flaking, and sometimes itching.”
Another less-considered drawback, Dr. Gohara says, is that sleeping with wet hair could interrupt your sleep, making you less likely to get a good night’s rest. You may wake up more often—all that moisture can be a nuisance!—and interrupted sleep isn’t great for your skin, either. Repeated nights of poor sleep may cause your cortisol levels to rise, which can increase inflammation throughout the body, potentially leading to more breakouts, Dr. Gohara explains.
Is It Fine to Sleep with Wet Hair Sometimes?
We get it: You probably won’t go to bed with dry hair every night. If you’re all out of energy to dry your hair after a post-workout rinse, don’t fret. Occasionally sleeping with wet hair probably won’t do much damage—and you may potentially even see some short-term benefits.
“Individuals with straight, thicker hair may experience less frizz compared to those with curly hair,” Dr. Penzi says. “And if you want to avoid using heat styling tools, allowing your hair to air-dry overnight can be a gentler alternative.”
And remember: Everyone’s different. “A lot of people may go to bed with their hair wet and have no problem at all,” Dr. Gohara says. But for some, it may pose an unexpected and unnecessary problem.
“If you don't experience breakage or frizz from sleeping with wet hair, and it doesn't impact your comfort, then it's likely OK for you,” Dr. Penzi says. The key is to avoid letting it become a nightly habit, especially if you notice changes to your hair, scalp, or skin.
How to Sleep with Wet Hair: 6 Pro Tips
If you are going to sleep with wet hair, there are a few things you can do to help protect your hair, scalp, and skin. The key is to do what you can with the time you have to avoid going to bed with your hair soaking wet, Dr. Penzi says. Here are a few tips to keep in mind before hitting the hay:
Use a microfiber towel. Towel dry your hair as much as you can with a microfiber towel to remove excess moisture, Dr. Stephens advises.
Give it a quick blow-dry. Even if you don’t have the time or energy for your full blow-dry routine, a little heat can remove some moisture before bedtime if it’s compatible with your hair type, texture, and style. You can finish the job in the morning. Just remember to apply your heat protectant of choice first.
…Or give it a little time to air dry. If you can, wash your hair first, then buy yourself some time as you attend to the rest of your bedtime routine. Clean up the kitchen, do your nightly skincare regimen, or read a chapter in your book before you get in bed. “Damp is better than soaked,” Dr. Gohara says—so give your hair as much time to air dry as you can before hopping under the covers.
Opt for loose hairstyles. A loose braid or bun will help reduce tension and friction as you sleep, Dr. Penzi says.
Consider a cap or bonnet. This prevents your wet hair from coming in contact with your pillow and skin. If you go this route, Dr. Gohara says to avoid twisting the hair into a tight bun first—just let it be free in the cap to avoid any unnecessary tension on your strands.
Sleep on a silk or satin pillowcase. This is good advice whether your hair is wet or not, and it’s even more important if you go to bed with wet hair. That’s because these materials cause less friction and are gentler on the hair, Dr. Stephens says.
Bottom line: Occasionally going to bed with wet hair isn’t catastrophic. Just don’t make it a regular practice. “Drying your hair to at least 75 percent before bed, using a microfiber towel, and applying heat protection for blow-drying can safeguard your hair and scalp health,” Dr. Stephens says. “If you choose to sleep with wet hair, taking preventative measures to minimize damage is crucial. Remember, a healthy hair routine is about balance and understanding your hair's specific needs.”
This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.