Having somebody interact with your hair, whether a friend, loved one, or a professional stylist in a salon, is often considered a profoundly relaxing experience.
Feeling tired and sleepy when somebody plays with your hair is common and natural.
Hair grows from the skin covering the scalp, which contains blood vessels and sensitive nerve endings. This means that playing with hair, gently lifting and redirecting its flow, stimulates these nerve endings and sends responses to the brain.
These sensations will be positive if the interaction with your hair is gentle and sensitive. The experience will feel similar to how an animal feels when you pet its fur. This will lull you into a sense of deep relaxation and potential sleepiness.
If you allow somebody to play with your hair, you’ll presumably trust them. This means that human contact will release oxytocin, the “love hormone” associated with intimacy with loved ones, and dopamine – the hormone associated with pleasure and reward.
Once your brain is flooded with oxytocin, the production of cortisol – the “stress hormone” – is blocked. The tranquility associated with oxytocin, coupled with an absence of stress or anxiety, will help your mind and body relax to the point that sleepiness becomes inevitable.
You can experience these positive hormonal reactions to a lesser extent by playing with your hair or simply brushing it with the appropriate apparatus. However, the intensity of the experience will always be heightened by the involvement of a third party.
Why Do I Feel Sleepy When Someone Touches My Hair?
Brushing and washing our hair is frequently seen as a chore or a duty that needs to be done, but having somebody else perform these duties frequently feels luxurious.
This makes many wonder, “Why do I fall asleep when someone plays with my hair?” Don’t worry – this isn’t a symptom of narcolepsy or any other sleep disorder.
Here are the main reasons why having somebody touch your hair feels so soothing:
Playing with hair will invariably mean interaction with the scalp, whether fingers directly touch the head or hair follicles that grow from the skin. This will feel tender and enjoyable as the scalp is filled with delicate blood vessels and nerve endings.
The scalp contains neurons that detect the slightest touch and respond by sending messages to the brain. If the contact is light, these messages carried will be a sensation that leaves us feeling content.
Of course, the opposite can also be true. As the scalp is so sensitive, having somebody roughly interact with your hair, pulling and tugging, can be painful.
A critical part of the anatomy is the occipitofrontalis, a sizable muscle that stretches from the eyebrows to the crown of the scalp. As per StatPearls, while the occipitofrontalis is primarily responsible for facial expressions to convey emotion, it carries many more responsibilities.
The occipitofrontalis contains blood vessels, hence why the scalp is so sensitive. The more blood pumps to the crown, responsible for most of the sensations associated with playing with hair, the more discerning the nerve endings feel.
Interaction with nerve endings then sends messages to the brain. According to the journal Neuron, the orbitofrontal cortex receives and processes these messages, encouraging the hypothalamus to release rewarding hormones.
Release of Hormones
The hormonal reaction in the brain makes us sleepy when somebody plays with our hair. Gentle, positive interaction with the hair floods the brain with positive sensations, releasing hormones connected to rewards.
The most prominent hormones the brain releases are dopamine and oxytocin, the latter of which works in tandem with melatonin.
Dopamine is interesting in this context, as while this hormone is associated with a pleasure response, it blocks the release of melatonin and acts as a stimulant.
The pleasure associated with dopamine encourages us to allow somebody to continue playing with our hair. This interaction releases oxytocin, the hormone associated with proximity to those we love.
Oxytocin is vital to feeling sleepy, which is why so many people find it easier to sleep when cuddling with a partner. When the brain is flooded with oxytocin, blood pressure lowers, stress and anxiety melt away, and heart rate slows down.
All of these physical sensations are associated with sleepiness. In addition, as per The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, oxytocin encourages the release of melatonin – the sleep hormone that would otherwise be blocked by dopamine.
If you feel safe and relaxed enough to experience a release of oxytocin, your body will also temporarily halt the production of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress.
This cocktail of hormones leaves us feeling wholly tranquil and encourages the mind and body to fall into a state of rest. It doesn’t automatically mean you will fall asleep immediately, but if you are already tired, it becomes increasingly likely that you will doze off.
Does Touching My Own Hair Release Oxytocin?
Many people play with their hair as an act of self-soothing. As Frontiers in Psychology explains, oxytocin release isn’t limited to interaction with another person. While the sensations may be less intense, touching or brushing your own hair can still be stimulating.
Gently brushing your hair with a wide-toothed comb will provide enough sensation to lull your body into a sense of relaxation at night, so adding this ritual to your sleep hygiene routine is recommended.
A bristly hairbrush may create an even greater sensation as the spikes will create a more concentrated impact on the nerve endings in your scalp. Hairbrushes can lead to overstimulation and pain, which is the last thing you should seek before sleep.
As long as you’re touching your hair as a conscious choice, you have nothing to be concerned about. Be careful if you appear to be developing a compulsion to play with your hair, which is known as a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB.)
Some BFRBs can be damaging to hair, including trichotillomania (a compulsion to tear out hair from the roots) and trichophagia (a desire to chew on hair.) These are not acts inspired by oxytocin release but debilitating issues that can lead to permanent hair loss.
Trust and Relaxation
Allowing somebody access to your hair can be considered an act of intimacy. This suggests that if you allow somebody to play with your hair and massage your scalp, you trust them.
Just as animals in the wild preen each other to display affection and mutual admiration, humans feel a release of tension and warmth when somebody makes an effort to care for us.
Being around those we trust allows us to relax and quiet any unwelcome, anxious thoughts that may plague our thoughts. This state of relaxation can be directly linked to sleepiness, especially toward the end of a long and tiring day.
Ask a loved one to brush or play with your hair as part of your sleep hygiene regime immediately before climbing into bed. You will likely fall asleep faster as you feel safe and content in your surroundings.
Is It Rude To Fall Asleep During A Hair Appointment?
If you’re prone to falling asleep when somebody touches your hair, a trip to the hair salon could become a source of anxiety. A hair appointment may involve head and scalp massages, and a lot of contact with your hair is unavoidable.
Some hairstylists consider it a compliment when a customer falls asleep during an appointment.
Nodding off suggests that you trust your stylist implicitly and feel completely relaxed and calm in your environment. This is the aim of many beauty professionals.
However, falling asleep mid-appointment could be awkward, especially if you’re unfamiliar with your stylist. Dozing off means you will be unavailable to answer questions, and your stylist will likely feel uncomfortable with the prospect of waking you.
Consider the impression that falling asleep may present if you close your eyes mid-conversation. This could be seen as disrespectful, even if that was never your intention – a stylist may assume that you find their conversation dull.
If you’re visiting a hairstylist for the first time and are worried about snoring or giving an unflattering impression by falling asleep during your appointment, work to keep yourself awake and alert throughout.
Find something to focus on during the appointment to keep your mind active, like counting ceiling tiles or mentally reciting your favorite song’s lyrics.
You can catch up on your rest and relax when the service is complete.
Feeling sleepy when somebody touches your hair is entirely natural. It can be a good bonding exercise as long as the person interacting with your hair is trustworthy and familiar.