Years ago, I shared a hotel room with a coworker at an overnight conference and after finishing my pre-bedtime routine, I emerged from the hotel bathroom with my hair wrapped up in a silk scarf. “Oh, that’s so fancy,” she marveled. “Do you wear that all night?” I told her that, like many Black women, I put my hair up at night to protect my locs — and when my hair is secure, I sleep much better.
Most Black women cover their hair at night. It’s almost a rite of passage, one that’s been passed down from our mothers. Whether we use a bonnet, a silk scarf, or other fabric, a head covering helps Black women prioritize the health of their hair so that our natural oils stay intact, our stands are moisturized, and our hair style is preserved. This allows us to take care of our hair even in our sleep.
Grace Eleyae is the founder of an eponymous company that specializes in silk wraps, turbans, and satin-lined caps (known as Slaps) for women with all different hair textures. And for as long as she can remember, Eleyae has gone to bed with something to cover her hair.
“In my community, wrapping our hair was for protection and to extend styles,” she explains. “There were never very many products that catered to the type and amount of moisture needed for Black hair so the longer we could extend a style, the better. It meant less manipulation and damage to our strands.”
Using a Hair Wrap Is Also a Self-Care Ritual for Better Sleep
When we wrap our hair, it’s also as an act of care and recentering after being out in the world. Black women in particular continue to face social and environmental factors that often prevent us from getting the best quality sleep.
Dayna A. Johnson, Ph.D., is a professor at Emory University researching sleep health disparities and their impact on chronic diseases. “Poor sleep and sleep disorders are more common among Black women. More specifically, Black women have shorter sleep duration, worse sleep quality, and more severe sleep apnea than non-Hispanic white women,” Johnson says. She highlights how racism and discrimination, stressful jobs, and the wealth gap all contribute to sleep disparities. “These sleep disparities, particularly for sleep duration, are seen across the lifespan from childhood to adulthood.”
Attention to self before bed can be not just a source of self-care, then, but of solace and relief. For many Black women, wrapping our hair is a crucial part of that holistic self-care that starts at an early age. Jewell Singletary, founder of The Gratitude Griot, is a holistic wellbeing instructor who specializes in using music, movement, and meditation to help people move toward overall wellness. Wrapping her hair has been a part of her nighttime routine since childhood.
“I can remember getting a fresh press and curl at my aunt’s hair salon as a little girl and having to wrap my hair up at night with a silk scarf in the 1980s,” Singletary recalls. She's worn bonnets for the last 10 years since transitioning to her natural hair texture, which is dense with a kinky, tight curl pattern.
“When I cover my hair, one of my favorite affirmations to repeat is ‘I invite in levity; I embrace ease.’ It helps me to practice being in flow and releasing stress. Feeling safe and secure is necessary for my overall well-being and that includes protecting my hair at night.”
For me, it’s a pre-bedtime ritual that reminds me to honor and take care of myself, to prioritize my wellbeing. It’s a physical act that engages my mind and ushers my body into a more relaxed state for a good night’s sleep.
While there still needs to be more research, studies do show that there is some evidence for improving sleep quality with meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques.
Studies also suggest that coping with stress and regulating your emotions can benefit sleep. When you feel have access to a safe, comfortable environment and feel relaxed, you are likely to sleep better, and reap the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
“I have a high value for sleep in my own life. Lack of adequate sleep negatively affects my mood, my productivity at work, and my health,” Eleyae says. “I notice that when I don’t get enough sleep for consecutive nights, I am more susceptible to colds and much less alert.”
The Additional Morning Benefit That Goes Beyond Good Hair
Black women face so many barriers to good sleep, but these acts of self-care do more than facilitate a more restful night. They also help us start the day off right.
Historically, Black women’s hair has been the subject of scrutiny and discrimination, and studies show having a self-perceived good hair day can change anyone’s outlook. For us, waking up with hair that’s been protected and nurtured can help us move with confidence throughout the day.
“[Covering my hair] gives me peace of mind, which in turn aids in getting a good night’s rest,” Eleyae says. “The few times I've been tired enough to fall asleep without a Slap, and not on a silk pillowcase, I've definitely woken up (usually much earlier than planned) with my now-tangled hair strands in mind.”
The nightly routine of scarves and bonnets is a reminder that our hair and health are all things that are worth investing in. Loving yourself can look different for each person, and it can also vary across cultures. It could mean working out, eating certain foods, or listening to certain music. For me, and so many other Black women, it means investing in silk scarves to protect my hair.
“I feel like covering my hair at night is a small act of self-love,” Singletary says. “Black people loving their natural skin tones and features is still a radical concept across the globe. It’s important that I prioritize pouring into and nourishing myself as an act of self-care and resistance.”
To get a good night’s sleep from just that, a hair wrap? It’s a benefit Black woman deserve.
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