When it comes to pre-bed hair routines, one thing might come to mind. Whether it came from an old wives’ tale or bedtime stories about far-away princesses, you’ve probably heard before that brushing your hair 100 times before bed will help you wake up with a gorgeous mane.
But while there is some truth to the concept that certain kinds of scalp stimulation, like scalp massages, can promote hair growth, and that proper brushing can disperse oils from the scalp down throughout the hair, the benefits don’t go much further. In fact, research has shown that excessive brushing can actually accelerate hair loss.
But there are plenty of other things we can do to protect, nourish, and style our hair to take care of it while we sleep — and to make it a little more manageable in the mornings.
For advice on the do’s, don’ts, and everything else regarding overnight haircare, we turned to experts Gregorio Ruggeri – a certified trichologist (specialist in all things hair and scalp), master hair colorist, and owner of Salon Ruggeri in New York City – and Abolore Adekoya, a registered nurse and owner of the Trichology Nurse Suite in Chesapeake, VA, who specializes in hair loss treatments and mental health support for those coping with hair loss.
What happens to hair overnight
Adekoya likes to emphasize the connection between a good night’s sleep and a healthy head of hair, explaining that when we get six to eight hours of shut-eye, our bodies complete vital reparative functions, including for our hair. "Hair follicles are made of protein, and when we sleep, protein building is at its greatest for repairing, building, and growing damaged hair,” she says. “Our hair follicles are also strengthened during sleep hours.” At minimum, when we sleep, our hair gets a break from all of the touching and fiddling it endures during the day!
Not only is that a great incentive for prioritizing sleep, but it creates an opportunity for us to take actions that will support the body’s natural overnight restoration processes. Here are a few things you can do to get healthier hair overnight.
Tips for healthier hair overnight
1. Determine your hair type
Start by determining your hair type — dry, oily, or combination — as well as your natural curl pattern, which can range anywhere from 1 (straight & silky) to 4 (textured & course). You can get even more specific by determining things like density, which refers to the number of hairs on your scalp, and porosity, referring to the hair’s ability to absorb moisture and any topically applied products.
You’ll also want to take other concerns into consideration, such as excessive dandruff, contact or seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, alopecia, or any other scalp and skin conditions that make up your hair’s unique chemistry. Some of these could indicate other health issues throughout the body, like pervasive fungus or chronic inflammation.
2. Find the right products for your hair type and hair goals
Once you’ve gathered all this data on your hair, use it to determine what products or processes will support the body’s overnight restoration process and your hair improvement goals.
“Before sleep, establish a healthy hair care plan that includes moisturizing hair at night,” Adekoya says. "Particularly for drier, more textured hair types.”
Ruggeri likes to end the night with a little dry shampoo for oilier hair types (he recommends Dove's version) to ward off the additional oils from “any unwanted night sweats.”
Those who want to add to dense hair should consider an overnight hair growth serum. People with chemical- or heat-damaged hair may want to look into overnight hair masks, which can soften and condition struggling strands.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A plays a crucial role in the development and maintenance of several aspects of the outer layer of the body’s surface, including skin, hair, and sebaceous glands. There are two forms of vitamin A available in the human diet: Preformed vitamin A, which can be found in foods like liver, fish oils, milk, and eggs; and provitamin A, which can be sourced from carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe, and squash. Be careful to monitor intake, though, as studies have shown that too much vitamin A can lead to toxicity and even hair loss.
Tocotrienol: A member of the vitamin E family, tocotrienol was found by one study to increase hair numbers for people suffering from hair loss, as it is a potent antioxidant that helps with oxidative stress in the scalp, which is associated with alopecia. Rice bran oil and palm oil are high in tocotrienol, but it can also be found in grapefruit seed oil, oats, hazelnuts, olive oil, flax seed oil, and sunflower oil.
Hydrate the right way: You’ll also want to avoid sugary drinks before bed, but that’s not just for your hair, as consumption of caffeinated, sugary beverages are associated with fewer hours of sleep each night. You can down a glass of water for a little boost of hydration.
4. Care for your scalp regularly
Ruggeri notes that when it comes to capitalizing on the body’s overnight restoration process for better hair health, "a healthy scalp is a happy scalp. Probably once a week you should do a scalp cleanse.” He loves the Act+Acre Cold Processed Scalp Detox for those who often suffer from scalp conditions like dandruff or fungal infections because, he says, it’s easy and effective. However, people with scalp conditions should consult a dermatologist before making any changes to their haircare routine.
5. Protect your strands and preserve your styles
Adekoya recommends wearing loose protective styles overnight, especially for people with more course and textured hair. They can prevent breakage, protect split ends, and prevent irritating knots and tangles. For example, a person with 4c type hair (very coily, kinky, and tightly curled) should arrange their strands in loose twists, braids, or plaits before bed because it can be prone to tangles and knots. “But I don’t recommend tight protective styles for bed,” she says. “Huge chunky twists or plaits are go-to's for many people."
In addition to a protective style, you can also bring in protective equipment. A satin or silk pillowcase will gently caress your strands at night, unlike cotton which can create friction. Innovations like the Slap, or satin lined cap, can provide full coverage for locking in moisturizing products or natural oils, while giving a stylish flare to boot. But what’s more ubiquitous, especially for people with type 4 hair, are satin bonnets or du-rags that can be found at your local beauty-supply store.
Take into account your specific needs and the fit of your cap before wearing it overnight. “[S]ome people should avoid certain satin night-caps, as the elastic band around the cap can cause friction around the hairline and cause breakage,” Adekoya explains.
What not to do to your hair before bed
Just as important as knowing what to do to keep your hair healthy is knowing what not to do. It seems like a waste to work toward a thriving mane if you’re unintentionally taking steps that damage it. Try being more mindful of the following expert guidance:
1. Don’t abuse your treatments
One common mistake is leaving certain hair treatments on your hair overnight. In particular, Ruggeri cautions against leaving high-intensity protein treatments on your scalp as you sleep, as that intensity can indeed be too intense.
“You should always look at the manufacturer's instructions before leaving any treatment on for so many hours," he says. Ruggeri also notes that just because you can use a product for extended hours, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
Leaving rinse-out conditioner on the scalp for an extended period — like overnight — is also not advisable. Adekoya explains that doing so can dry out your hair follicles once it’s rinsed out.
2. Avoid rough handling
While we noted earlier that scalp massages can stimulate hair growth, gentleness is always the name of the game when it comes to our precious, somewhat delicate strands. "I always tell my clients to avoid harsh scalp massages before bed, as they can cause breakage to hair follicles and irritate the scalp,” Adekoya warns. You’ll also want to avoid sleeping in tight ponytail bands, clips, decorative combs, and tautly pulled headbands.
3. Leave extensions for daytime
Wigs and extensions can be a great option for many people looking to give their natural hair a break from styling and handling during the day. The brunt of any tugging, clipping, and heat application can be delegated to the extensions while our natural hair rests safely underneath. But Ruggeri warns that sleeping in wigs or extensions can put too much tension on the hair. "Traction alopecia is a type of hair loss that occurs when something is pulling the hair away from the scalp, such as ponytails, extensions (if not installed properly), and even certain hats," he explains. Adekoya doubled down on the warning. "Your hair follicles need oxygen so it's best to let them rest at night with plenty of air for healing," she says.
4. Don’t get discouraged by slow results
While you may be gung-ho and ready to radically change your hair health, these changes take time, so don't get discouraged when results don't happen overnight. Ruggeri tells us that the time frame to start seeing changes is generally three months, and Adekoya agrees.
"We also need to remember each person has an individual genetic code that determines their hair-growth cycle,” she adds. “Don’t switch up a routine just because you aren’t seeing results right away. Hair growth takes time and patience, and jumping from routine to routine or product to product will NOT be good for your hair’s healthy growth cycle."
So stay the course! Take progress pictures, track changes in a journal or on your phone, and mark the days on your calendar so you won't give up before you get the chance to see the impact your good habits can yield.
How to make haircare easier in the morning
We've talked a lot about what steps to take in the evening to lock in a healthy head of hair. But what can we do at night to get a head-start on our morning routines? Of course, prepping for an easy morning at night will vary depending on your hair type and style, but our experts still have some words of wisdom to share.
Ruggeri recommends wearing hair away from the face in a loose top knot, low ponytail, or loose braids. This will ward away any unwanted tangles and avoid transferring oils between the face and hair. For more oily hair types he recommends starting the morning with a spritz of dry shampoo to help banish any excess oil that may have accumulated during your slumber.
Adekoya adds, "Even if you have a dry scalp, I don’t recommend using heavy oils like olive oil at night, it’s too thick and will just make a mess in the morning. Using a very small amount of lighter oils like grapeseed or jojoba might be a better option."
Some of these steps may feel a bit overwhelming when we're exhausted and ready for bed, but these small investments in ourselves can give tremendous returns. Take the time to focus on what you need and lighten the load on your future self. Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you.