How to Actually Sleep With Dreadlocks – The Complete Guide


Despite being a growing trend, dreadlocks are far from new but are beginning to be more and more accepted in modern society. Dreads are no longer reserved for hippies and Rastafarians but are common among working professionals, celebrities, and the girl next door. Many cultures in the world have a long history with dreadlocking hair, but a less documented aspect is what happens to those locs at night. (Source)

If you have ever had dreadlocks, or you’re just starting to do your research, one of your first questions may be about how to sleep with them. Depending on the style that you get, they can appear to be big and bulky, which may seem slightly uncomfortable. Even though people in the past have often viewed dreadlocks as a lazy hairstyle, you’ll quickly learn that it is not as lazy as it may seem, and you do need to put in at least a little bit of effort to maintain your locs.

Although typically low maintenance as far as coloring, trimming, and other required trips to the salon, learning how to sleep with dreadlocks is a critical factor in keeping them looking intentional and clean. After all, what you do as part of your bedtime routine can be the difference between looking like Jason Momoa or Jack Sparrow.

Short to Medium Dreads

Short and medium-length dreads are relatively easy to get used to because there is less hair to adjust, and they’re often slightly thinner than the chunky, long version. Rather than discomfort, you may find that you’re more worried about destroying them.

  • Use a sleep cap – Because they’re shorter, a simple sleep cap will help keep your locs in place. A sleep cap or scarf for short dreads will also help them keep their shape and direction if your style is more structured.
  • Tie them in a knot – Medium-length dreads may seem like a bit of a nuisance when you’re attempting to get some sleep and can’t get them to behave. If your length is in that in-between category, you might find it helpful to simply tie the strands in a knot. You can achieve this by taking the locs in two even sections and bringing them together in a half knot. Unlike loose hair, the texture of your locs will help keep the half-knot together and will pull the hair together enough to stay out of the way.

    Depending on the actual length of your locs, you can do this higher or lower on your head, whichever feels more convenient for you. If you’re worried about the strands becoming loose, use a scarf to keep them in place.

Long Dreads

If you’ve started with shorter locs and have stuck through the long process of growing them out, the chances are that you have grown accustomed to sleeping with your hair in this style. However, if you went with extensions to go directly to long locs, sleeping during the first few nights may take a bit of getting used to. Fortunately, long locs have a lot of options so you will be able to experiment and find out what works for you.

  • Tie up – The standard, go-to for getting hair out of your way, is to throw it in a bun. Despite often being thicker than loose hair, an updo also works well on locs. To get your hair into a bun, use a stretched elastic or headband to pull the hair into a high ponytail, but rather than pulling the hair all the way through, leave it in the half-folded position with the ends hanging out. Then wrap the ends around the half bun and tuck them into the elastic. The best part about putting your hair in a bun to sleep is that it doesn’t really matter what it looks like, as long as you feel comfortable to sleep on it.
  • Pull back – Similar to tying your dreads up, pulling the long locs back into a loose ponytail can be an easy way to keep them all together while you sleep. Using a loose elastic or a headband, bring all of the hair back and secure it together at the base of your head.
    If you know that you tend to sleep on your back or one particular side, it will be more comfortable to secure the elastic more to one side of your head, that way you can pull all the locs over one shoulder.
  • Dread sock/cap – A dread sock or dread tube is similar to a headband, but has more material for more coverage. Some versions have one end that is elastic to help keep it in place on your hairline. These are especially helpful for preventing new growth from becoming frizzy or damaged. I personally recommend using a Fairy Black Mother Dreadlocks Hair Cap (Link to Amazon) because it’s durable and fits both long and short dreads.
  • Ditch the pillow – If your locs are extra thick or long, you might try sleeping without a pillow. Some people find that this is much easier to adjust to than having the added height of a pillow and dreads on top of it. If you have neck issues, start with a thin cushion, rather than completely throwing the whole pillow idea out.
  • Fan them above your head on the pillow – If you have ever seen images of Sleeping Beauty with her hair fanned perfectly around her head, having dreadlocks may help that picture make a little more sense. While sleeping with your dreads covered or tied together will help to protect them in the long run, there may be times that it’s just not possible, or you may need to find something more comfortable. Sleeping on your back with your locs moved from beneath your head and spread comfortably around you can sometimes be the best option. If you’re an edge-of-the-bed sleeper, try sleeping with your back to the edge and let your locs hang off the side.

Sleeping for All Dreads

Whether you have just started growing your locs, have had them for years, or are trying them once again, there are a few things to always keep in mind when it comes to sleeping in them.

  • Clean the bed – It won’t take long to see how quickly (or how much) lint and fuzz tends to show up everywhere, especially in your bed. To prevent the fluff from making its way from your sheets to your locs, spend a few minutes each night with a lint roller. If you don’t have time to go over the whole bed (who does?), at least cover the areas where your locs will come into contact – including all pillows, the top section of the mattress, and any blankets or sheets. Also, be sure to wash your sheets frequently so that your locs always have a clean place to lay. Cleaning your bed at night will save you time in the morning from having to pick out little lint balls.
  • Sleep on silk or satin – All hair, not just dreads, have the potential to become damaged from the friction against harsh bedding materials. Help minimize frizz and hair coming loose from the loc strand by sleeping on a pillowcase that is made of silk or satin. These materials help the hair glide rather than scrape while you’re tossing at night. This is especially important if you choose not to sleep with a cap or scarf covering your roots. I personally use the Fishers Finery 100% Pure Mulberry Silk Pillowcase (best price on Amazon), especially for dreadlocks. It does an amazing job protecting my hair while I sleep, I wouldn’t use any other pillowcase!
  • Try a contour pillow – If you can’t seem to find a way to get those locs out of the way, try a Tempur-pedic pillow or one that is ergonomically shaped to fit the curve of your spine. These pillows create support for your neck while allowing the base of your head to rest naturally. The benefit is that the indent actually provides space for your dreads without compromising your neck. I personally use a Nature’s Guest Adjustable Cervical Pillow (link to Amazon) as my go to cervical pillow to create support for my neck while providing more space for my hair!

Specifically for Fresh Dreads

New dreads are particularly challenging to sleep with because it is impossible not to notice the difference between locs and loose hair. Most people note that their first few nights of sleeping with dreadlocks are difficult due to thickness, tightness, and itchiness. Some have likened it to sleeping on ropes.

  • Do a nightly scalp massage – Using your fingers to gently massage the natural oils of your scalp (sebum) will not only give some relief to the tension that you feel from the new dreadlocks, but it will also encourage the hair follicles to grow. A nightly massage is also essential if you’re on the impatient side because gaining length takes longer when dreaded.

Just for Mature Dreads

Once you have gotten to the point of mature dreads, sleeping will be mostly about maintenance for you. At this point, you will have learned which sleeping positions work for you and which don’t. The fear of unraveling may have lessened, but you still want to make sure your hair is healthy.

  • Leave-in conditioner – Unlike fresh dreads, your mature dreads don’t require as much manual massaging, but still need to be kept hydrated. Using a conditioner or oil will keep them from drying out, something that happens easily while you sleep.

Aside from making sure that you stay hydrated, once you have reached the mature dread stage, you can follow the above suggestions for all dread types as well as the length of your locs! Being the seasoned, sophisticated dread wearer that you are, easy maintenance is your only task.

What to Do In the Morning

Your nighttime sleep routine doesn’t just stop when you wake up. When you are getting started for your day, taking care of your locs is crucial for longevity, and keeping them looking clean.

  • Pull out any lint or random fuzz – Even if you spent an hour last night hand-picking each piece of dust from your bed, you probably missed a few. And these rogue fuzzballs will have undoubtedly ended up making a home in your locs. For the sake of keeping your hair looking fresh and clean, you should remove debris as soon as you see it. Letting it stay will result in the fibers becoming embedded into your locs, which just isn’t a good look.
  • Run your fingers through them – Tangles are always a pain, but they’re a little trickier when your head is loc’d up. Loose hairs can be brushed, but detangling dreadlocks that have become intertwined is time-consuming, frustrating, and can damage the locs. Avoid long-term damage by running your fingers through your hair each morning to ensure each strand is still an individual.
  • Palm roll – After a night of sleeping directly on your dreads, waking up with loose hairs is expected, especially with fresh locs. The best thing that you should do is grab the strand at the base and firmly roll flyaways between your palms into the loc. This method also helps to compress and tighten the locs.

What to Avoid

As you get used to your dreads, you’ll be able to figure out how to care for them quickly and sleeping will be much less of an effort. But, even when your dreads have matured, there are still a few things you want to stay away from.

  • Tight night caps – At first, it may seem like keeping your dread tight and close to your head will help them look exactly the same when you wake up. Unfortunately, tight caps will actually do more damage than good and may cause the hairs to break.
  • Sleeping with wet locks – As much as possible, wash your hair early in the day or blow-dry your locs before bed. Sleeping on them while wet can cause them to become flat, which is probably not the look you’re going for. Even worse, trapped water that won’t dry properly will lead to the growth of mildew.
  • Leave-in conditioner for new locs – Be sure to research your leave-in conditioner if your locs are fresh. Some leave-ins can actually work too well and cause the dreads to unravel.
  • Wax – While wax might seem like an excellent way to make your hair behave, the build-up from leftover wax can be very noticeable.

The Dreaded Takeaway

You should always remember that everyone’s dreadlock journey is personal and individual. What works for someone else’s locs may or may not work for you. When you head to sleep, these suggestions from people who are new to dreads and those who are lifelong wearers will help you figure out the best way to not only achieve comfortable sleep but also keep your hair healthy and looking just the way you want.

Tiara Croft

Tiara is an avid sleeper and fully dedicated to her work and research. Most often this includes, but is not limited to, napping, testing how many hours in one night that she can sleep, trying new sleep methods and constantly changing sleep positions. Tiara's main focuses are on dreams and how we can achieve the best natural sleep possible. As a sufferer of insomnia and other sleep-related disturbances, Tiara loves to dig deep into the subconscious to ask all the questions that can help us better understand what happens when we sleep.

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