Have you skipped a late night shower because you were too tired to blow dry, hearing your mother’s voice in your head telling you that you’ll catch a cold if you sleep with wet hair?
Turns out, your mother was wrong — at least about the cold. Sleeping with your hair wet can make you sick, but not the way you think.
We got the lowdown from two doctors on sleeping with wet hair. Here’s what could happen if you do hit the hay with a wet head and how to go about it the right way.
There’s no need to lose sleep over what your mom told you about getting sick by sleeping with wet hair.
The risks are pretty minimal, but there are a few you should be aware of before thinking you can hit the hay sopping wet every night.
Catching a cold appears to be the most common concern thanks to folklore and protective mothers and grandmothers.
Though they’re usually right in general, they’re wrong about wet hair and colds, according to Dr. Chirag Shah, MD, a board-certified emergency physician and cofounder of Push Health, an online healthcare platform.
“There is no evidence that one can catch a cold from going to bed with wet hair,” Shah said. “When one gets a cold, it is due to being infected with a virus.”
The common cold doesn’t really have anything to do with being cold, but rather being infected with one of over 200 cold-causing viruses, usually a rhinovirus.
The virus enters your body through your nose, mouth, or eyes and is spread through droplets in the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or speaks. You can also catch it by touching a contaminated surface or hand-to-hand contact with an infected person.
In the United States, colds are more likely during colder months because of the start of the school year and people spending more time indoors, in close quarters with others.
Though sleeping with wet hair won’t give you a cold, Dr. Shah says that it does increase your risk of developing a fungal infection of the scalp.
Along with the fungus naturally present on your scalp, pillows are also a hotbed for fungus. It thrives in a warm environment and a wet pillowcase and pillow provide the ideal breeding ground.
An older study on the fungal flora found on bedding discovered anywhere between 4 to 16 species per pillow tested. This included Aspergillus fumigatus, a common species of fungus responsible for causing severe infections in people with weakened immune systems. It can also worsen symptoms of asthma.
Sleeping with wet hair does impact the hair itself. Along with the inevitability of waking up with some seriously kinked bedhead, you may also do damage to your hair.
“Hair is at its weakest when it’s wet. The main risk (other than cosmetic ones) is breakage of hair when tossing and turning while sleeping,” said Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, a New York City dermatologist who’s board-certified in dermatology and dermatopathology.
Mudgil warns: “This is particularly an issue if hair is braided or in a tight updo, which adds more tension to the hair shaft. If you can’t avoid sleeping with wet hair, your best bet is leaving it down.”
If drying your hair fully before bed is just not an option, here are some things you can do to make going to sleep with wet hair as safe as possible:
Apply coconut oil to your hair
The hair cuticle is made up of flaps similar to shingles on a roof. When wet, your hair soaks up water and swells, causing these flaps to stand up, making hair vulnerable to damage.
The oil reduces the amount of water absorbed so it’s less prone to damage. This isn’t recommended if you have seborrheic eczema, however, since coconut oil could make it worse.
Conditioner helps seal the hair cuticle, reduce friction, and make hair easier to detangle.
Bleached or chemically-treated hair can benefit even more from regular conditioning.
Dry and detangle hair as much as possible
If you can get in a quick blow dry or are able to shower a few minutes earlier for some extra air-drying time, do it.
The less water you have in your hair, the better to minimize damage. Be sure to (gently) detangle your hair before going to sleep to help avoid any extra stress on your hair.
Use a silk pillow
There’s some evidence that sleeping on a silk pillowcase is better for the skin because it’s less drying and provides a frictionless surface.
Though there isn’t any evidence of its benefits for hair, the milder surface may also help lessen damage if you go to sleep with your hair wet — or dry, for that matter.
Going to sleep with wet hair can be bad for you, but not in the way your grandmother warned you.
Ideally, you should be going to bed with completely dry hair to reduce your risk of fungal infections and hair breakage.
Sleeping with wet hair could also result in more tangles and a funky mane to tend to in the morning. If you can’t avoid sleeping with wet hair, you can minimize potentially damaging friction with a few simple tweaks to your bath and bedtime routine.