You’re tired, you’re exhausted, you’re stressed.
And in addition to seeing the bags under your eyes start to appear and your morning caffeine consumption increase 10-fold, you’re also worrying about the hair thinning around your scalp that seems more present than ever. Panicked, exhausted and potentially balding, you wonder: can lack of sleep cause hair loss?
Sleep is a crucial part of our normal routine, and the benefits of sleep are too numerous to count. It’s not just the last line of defense between your otherwise healthy brain and some really weird cognitive side effects — sleep can affect everything, including your hair.
If you’ve been lacking in the Z’s lately and are starting to see the physiological symptoms of sleep deprivation, or if you’ve been sleep deprived for so long that you can’t remember what a good night’s sleep feels like, then hair loss may either be a new (or ongoing) problem.
Understanding how your sleep might be connected to your thinning hair or balding head requires a bit of background. Let’s start with what happens to your body when you stop sleeping well.
To understand what lack of sleep can do to your body and otherwise healthy hair, let’s take it to the extreme and look at chronic insomnia.
Chronic insomnia, which is when you lose sleep three or more nights per week for a period of at least three months, can do a lot more than make you feel drained in the morning.
Sleep disorders like insomnia can be the result of other problems. Higher risk of ED, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, restless leg syndrome and even things like separation anxiety or respiratory issues may all be to blame when it comes to sleep problems.
And while those problems can cause sleep disorders, sleep disorders themselves can likewise cause other related issues and health conditions.
As for your hair follicles, there are some reasons to believe insomnia can cause problems there, too.
There are many variables to consider when looking at sleep as a cause of hair loss, and right away we can put some possibilities to bed.
No current study data shows that a single night of lost sleep will have any effects on your scalp. Likewise, no current study has linked sleep loss by itself to increases in hair loss or the start of hair loss problems.
Instead, what we have are a lot of studies that point to a link between good sleep and good hair, and a potential connection between lost sleep and, you guessed it, lost hair.
A 2020 study of behavioral factors in severe female pattern hair loss (which is also known as androgenetic alopecia, the same disorder as male pattern hair loss) found that sleep habits (as well as things like alcohol consumption rates, ponytail hairstyles and oily scalps) do indeed affect the rate of hair loss in people with these conditions.
After examining more than 1,800 participants, researchers found that people with poorer sleep quality (as well as increased alcohol intake, more frequent use of ponytail hairstyles and more oily scalps) were more likely to suffer more severe hair loss.
Now, the study did not draw the conclusion that sleep itself was the determining factor — in fact, the authors noted that sleep quality is often associated with other factors like stress levels and workload.
Together, however, those factors can paint the picture of a fatigued body not getting what it needs to live its best life — which would suggest an increased vulnerability to problems like hair loss.
And not all hair risks in lack of sleep may be physical.
A 2021 study found some potential links between sleep deprivation and the risk of developing trichotillomania — a mental health disorder in which one rips out their own hair as an anxious or compulsive habit.
The study didn’t make it clear whether sleep was a potential cause of the condition or whether compulsively pulling out your own hair just cuts into your sleeping time — just that there was a negative correlation between poor sleep habits and frequency of hair pulling.
Obviously, more research is needed before anything can be said definitively, but the research we have is promising.
The NIH explains that stress generally is a serious contender for the worst thing for your hair health.
Studies have found that stress hormones can aggravate or otherwise reduce hair growth in mice by removing the adrenal glands and observing rapid cycles of hair regrowth that actually do not slow even as mice age.
So, maybe it’s not age that’s been killing off your hair, so much as it is the total amount of time in your life that you’ve been stressed out.
There’s also a type of sudden hair loss called telogen effluvium to consider. Telogen effluvium is temporary diffuse hair loss caused by physical or emotional stress on the body that happens in the telogen phase of the hair growth cycle.
The simplest example is chemotherapy or major surgery, both of which can cause the body to temporarily abandon hair growth as a function — a sort of internal triage mechanism where your body says, “we’ll get back to that later — there’s a huge problem over here.”
Telogen effluvium can also be caused by stress, PTSD, childbirth, serious infections and other major health issues. And while a single night of lost sleep isn’t on that list, chronic sleep loss and the deterioration of your health that might result in the extreme would definitely qualify.
Unfortunately, many unknowns are still being explored and even the scientists on the edge of this research are still asking questions about which sleep-related hormones may affect hair growth — and how.
“I tried several different options before but Hims combined approach of all four methods by far created the best results.”
“Hims has been the greatest confidence boost, no more bald jokes! I look and feel so much younger!”
“When I show my barber my progress, he is always in disbelief. I have to recommend Hims to any guy who’s experiencing thinning.”
“Cost effective and affordable. My hair keeps growing thicker, fuller, and at a fast rate.”
“I noticed a huge change in the overall health and fullness of my hairline.”
“Now after 5 months I’m able to style waves first time in 10 years!”
“I decided to jump right in and I'm so glad I did. I definitely feel ten years younger!”
“In just as little over two and half months, I can really see the difference in thickness and in color.”
“4-months strong and my confidence boosted back up to 100% using Hims, future me really does thank me.”
“I’m a 34-year-old father of two and have been using Hims for over a year now. My hair is back to what it was in my mid-twenties.”
The good news is that you don’t really have to understand hair loss on a deep biochemical level to do something about it.
In the case of telogen effluvium, for instance, your body will typically return to normal function within months of recovery from whatever has happened.
In the case of insomnia or stress at work leading to insomnia, that means that whenever you get back to normal workloads, normal levels of stress and hours of sleep per night, things will start to correct themselves.
As for other types of hair loss, the answer varies. You do still need to get regular rest. If your sleep is so bad right now that you’re Googling whether it’s making your hair fall out, we don’t need to tell you that it’s probably time to seek some professional help for your insomnia.
There are many ways to do this, and while a healthcare professional will help you find the right approach to sleep health for your needs, you might want to ask about the following treatment options:
Sleep hygiene improvements
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia
Histamine-1 receptor medications
GABA-A receptor medications
Sleep restriction therapy
As for hair treatments in particular, the two most effective medications currently on the market are finasteride and minoxidil.
Finasteride, which you may know as the generic version of Propecia®, is an oral medication that reduces your body’s levels of the hormone DHT — a hormone linked to androgenic alopecia (commonly known as male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness).
Daily use of finasteride can reduce DHT enough to stop and in some cases reverse certain instances of hair loss. alk to a healthcare provider for more information.
The generic version of Rogaine®, known as topical minoxidil, on the other hand, is believed to work by increasing blood flow to your follicles, which stimulates hair growth. Research shows that minoxidil can increase hair counts for many men.
Generic for Rogaine®, this FDA-approved over-the-counter version of topical minoxidil is used for regrowth on the crown of the head.
This is the FDA-approved dynamic duo. When used together, men saw better results in clinical trials compared to using either alone.
If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
Clinically proven to regrow hair in 3-6 months, no pills required.
Taking care of your hair and taking care of your health generally go hand in hand: if you eat right, sleep, exercise and generally take care of your body, you’re doing as much as you can to protect yourself from going bald.
If you’re not tending to your health and wellness, however, your hair can likewise suffer. While we’re far from having all the answers to the concrete relationship between the two, research has shown there is a link between sleep (or lack thereof) and hair loss.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can help your body and your hair — maintaining a proper diet, exercising regularly and making sure you’re getting enough sleep can all be game-changers.
And if you’re looking for immediate help, medications like minoxidil and finasteride are FDA-approved to help with your hair loss woes.
Your first step, however, should be to consult with a healthcare professional. They’ll be able to help you figure out why you’re seeing some extra hairs in the shower drain, whether it’s related to your sleep habits — or something else — and help you come up with a treatment plan that makes sense for you.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.