Ever hear that going to bed with wet hair will make you sick? You’re not alone. It’s one of those pieces of old-school advice that gets passed down from generation to generation, along with the thought that plucking one gray hair causes three to grow back and that only teenagers get acne.
Some people prefer to wash their hair at night for whatever reason—it fits with their schedule, they love that snooze button or they’ve been doing it for years without really thinking about it. But does going to bed with wet hair really, truly, actually make you sick? And even if it doesn’t, does it harm your hair? We went to the experts to find if the advice actually holds up—or not.
According to Amber Tully, MD, a family-medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic, the idea that sleeping with wet hair can cause illness is an old wives’ tale. (Sorry, mom.) The common cold—think sniffling, congestion or a runny nose—is caused by a virus that is in no way related to how damp or dry your hair is. “You may feel physically cold if you sleep with wet or damp hair, but this will not cause illness,” says Dr. Tully. But people associate being sick with feeling physically cold, she explains, which is probably why this mistake is so prevalent.
The common cold is caused by a virus that is in no way related to how damp or dry your hair is.
On the other hand, going to bed with wet hair can cause an entirely different set of issues—for your scalp. “A chronically damp or wet pillow may become a breeding ground for bacterial or fungal infections, since the combination of warmth and moisture allows many fungal elements to thrive,” says Dr. Tully. That could result in seborrheic dermatitis—a.k.a. dandruff, the most obvious sign of which is a chronically red, itchy or flaky scalp.
Going to bed with wet hair can also create extra work in the AM. “Sleeping with wet hair causes your hair to set, which means your hair will turn out whichever way you sleep on it,” says Marshall Lin, a stylist at Frédéric Fekkai SoHo Salon. “Your hair can get tangled during sleep, and those knots can be harder to get out without causing breakage to strands.” He also seconds the point about damage to the scalp—noting that it’s not just your pillow that’s the problem. “The moisture, oil and body heat from your scalp can cause buildup and lead to dry scalp or dandruff,” he says.
“Your hair can get tangled during sleep, and those knots can be harder to get out without causing breakage to strands.”
If you have no other options besides going to bed with wet hair, it’s worth taking a few extra steps to protect it. First, let your roots dry a little bit, which can help alleviate scalp issues. Then, “comb your hair well and apply a light, leave-in conditioner,” says Lin. “Since your hair will set overnight, you’ll want to go to sleep with it smooth and neat.” Lin recommends working Fekkai PrX Reparatives Leave-In Conditioner Spray through the mid-lengths to ends, which will help keep hair smooth. In the morning, comb your hair and quickly blast your roots with a hair dryer to ensure your scalp is completely dry. If your hair is wavy or curly, work a curl cream or oil through the ends—otherwise, you’re good to go.
While hitting the sheets with wet hair won’t kill you, it’s generally not a good idea for your hair and scalp. If time is the enemy at bedtime, we recommend a quick dry using the ultra-fast Harry Josh Pro Tools hair dryer. You can also dry and protect your hair at the same time with a fast-absorbing hair turban (it’s comfy enough to wear while sleeping). And—most important—choose the right brush or comb to detangle your wet strands, while minimizing breakage. Try The Wet Brush, which is designed especially for wet or damp hair.