The sleep habits that could be wrecking your hair

The simple act of sleeping can be surprisingly detrimental to your locks, but protective hairstyles can help. Here is how to save your strands from overnight damage.

Have you been sleeping on protective hairstyles?

For most of us, our hair is an afterthought when we go to bed, but that attitude could be working against us.

Common nighttime habits such as sleeping with damp locks, tying up your hair with an elastic, wearing it down – even sleeping on cotton pillowcases – can contribute to hair breakage or fall-out.

Thankfully, overnight damage to your tresses is entirely preventable.

Here is what you’ll want to know. Disclamer: Doesn’t work on everyones hair type ❣️#sleepinghairstyle #protectivehairstyles #bedhairstyles ♬ i think i like when it rains speed up – ✨️

Why does hair break while you sleep?

According to head trichologist at Melbourne Trichology Kay Fitzgerald, overnight breakage or hair loss occurs when strands snap due to the friction of cotton fabrics against your hair as you sleep.

And while going to bed with wet hair might seem harmless, it can also contribute to damage.

“Silk pillowcases can certainly reduce friction while sleeping, but wet hair is the main culprit because when your hair is wet, it’s in a very fragile state and is prone to snapping,” Kay explains.

For a long time, silk pillowcases were heralded as a solution to this nightly conundrum, and while it’s true that sleeping on silk can reduce the amount of friction on your hair, there are other habits that can wreck your locks.

Wearing a tight ponytail to bed, for example, will tug at your scalp, causing breakage.

Another thing to be aware of is to not confuse overnight breakage with hair being in its shedding phase.

“It’s important to not confuse fall out with your hair being in a shedding phase, because when it comes to the latter, hair will come out regardless of styling,” Kay says.

What are protective hairstyles?

The term may have only entered the wider beauty scene recently, but protective hairstyles have long been popular in certain cultures.

According to Kay, education is needed in order to protect your hair based on your specific hair type.

“It’s important to identify the right protective hairstyles for you. Some people wrongly believe a tight updo is an effective option, but it can actually contribute to traction alopecia if worn tightly and too often,” Kay says.

For those unfamiliar with the practice, protective hairstyles are designed to protect hair from environmental damage and minimise manipulation through brushing, pulling, or tugging during sleep.

“The number one rule about overnight protective styles is that it shouldn’t feel tight or pull on the hair. This is particularly important if you have coloured or chemically treated hair, as it’s already in a weakened state,” Kay says.

“Styling your hair in a way that limits friction while you sleep is one of the simplest ways to reduce hair loss because without friction, there’s no tension on the hair to cause it to snap.”

As a result, breakage is reduced, improving the hair’s overall condition.


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Which protective hairstyles are right for your hair?

Since hair comes in different types, textures and lengths, it makes sense to choose a protective hairstyle that suits your natural locks.

Curly, wavy or coiled hair

Opt for loose braids or twists. Alternatively, try cornrows – this low-maintenance protective hairstyle is often professionally installed and can be worn for extended periods rather than purely overnight.

Straight hair

For straight hair or finer hair textures, loosely styled top buns and braids are protective, so long as you use snag-free bands or silk scrunchies to reduce tension.

These hairstyles also help prevent dents forming in the hair, reducing breakage.

All hair types

In addition to protective hairstyles, protective hair accessories have become popular as a way to prevent damage and preserve hairstyles overnight, with silk bonnets, microfibre towels and heatless curlers gaining traction on BeautyTok.

“All hair types can benefit from avoiding heat tools where possible, so it’s great to see heatless styling options gain more popularity,” Kay says.

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Written by beauty editor Charlotte Brundrett