The Case For Sleeping Caps

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One commonly overlooked sleep accessory is the night cap or sleeping cap.

It is unknown exactly who may be credited with designing the very first night cap, but this garment surfaced in Europe during the middle ages, originally intended for battling head lice (!).

Most people in those days wore fancy wigs in which the lice resided; at night the wig was removed and replaced with a sleep cap to keep lice from spreading. As a person aged, night caps were even more common because they would lose their hair from wearing wigs or hats constantly. Night caps served a dual purpose, both keeping lice away and keeping the head warm. Until the mid-1800s, most homes did not have reliable forms of heating overnight, making it a necessity to keep covered. Contrary to popular belief, the head does not lose 75% of the body’s heat if it is exposed. As reported in The Wilderness Medicine Newsletter in 2007, the head is only 10% of the body’s surface; therefore, it would be impossible for such a large percent of heat to be lost through such a small surface area. Heat is actually lost through any skin that is exposed – and not more predominantly through the head. (Boy, the cool things you learn here on the Alarm Clock Blog, huh?!)

Wolf Sleeping Cap

My, what big ears you have, Grandma!

Night caps are still used today; they have changed from their original pointy style, which was intended to trap warm air in the large exaggerated space. Night caps, also called sleep caps, are now in the form of a gathered bonnet, a spandex-like or nylon stretch garment, a ski hat, or in rare cases, the traditional pointy style for novelty purposes. Night caps are most commonly seen on babies today. Babies need to be kept warm to prevent increased susceptibility to illness. There are two reasons why sleep caps are so beneficial for infants – the size of their heads and the small amount of hair that they have on them.

Reports from Riley’s Children’s Hospital reflect that an average baby’s head is 25% of their total body size. Also noted is the hair on a baby’s head; even babies with a large amount of hair will lose heat, as the hair’s texture is very fine. This report also included another important fact about baby night hats: calorie consumption. When humans become cold, their body tries to create heat by creating muscle activity, which causes shivering. Babies cannot shiver, so instead their bodies use a special fat that is designed for aid in growth and development. Essentially, babies need that fat to develop correctly, so when room or outdoor temperatures are cool, the absence of a hat is detrimental to their overall development.

Baby Sleep Hat

Babies should have sleep hats to keep them warm at night. But please, make sure they're made out of all natural materials.

Sleep caps are also used by adults who simply want to keep their heads warm, either due to hair loss or simply in order to avoid feeling cold at night. Another reason in addition to hair loss why elderly people use night caps is because they also lose the layer of padding under their skin.

In his book “Anatomy & Physiology: The Unity Of Form And Function,” respected author and Georgia State University Professor Kenneth Saladin reports that as people age, they naturally lose the layer of fat under their skin. This loss is responsible for making nerve endings more sensitive to cold temperatures; without the padding for warmth, a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit would feel much colder to this person than it would to one with full padding. People who feel the need to cover their head at night will likely receive recommendation from their doctor for an appropriate sleep cap. Doctors advise against fully covering the head with blankets instead. Studies and research conducted by Biomed Middle East Healthcare Intelligence in 2010 show that covering the entire head while sleeping is harmful. As humans inhale, oxygen is drawn in and carbon dioxide is then exhaled. This report states that when people cover their head, the concentration of exhaled carbon dioxide may exceed oxygen – over time, this could have damaging effects on the brain from lack of oxygen. Simply covering the top of the head instead is a much more healthy way to keep warm; this is yet another advantageous aspect of sleep caps.

Totoro Sleeping Cap

These days sleeping caps are available in a lot of wild styles, such as this sleeping cap patterned after the Japanese anime character Totoro!

Another use for sleep caps is simply to keep hair set neatly while sleeping!

Women or men who regularly have their hair braided choose night caps that are stretchy, as these will keep hair in place and not pull strands out from the braid rows. Women who have their hair curled and styled regularly at a beauty parlor also use sleeping caps, but the style they choose is the gathered bonnet with a looser cap, allowing room for their curls. Simple sleep caps have been used by women who put their hair up at night since the beginning of the pointy caps’ existence also.

More elaborate colors, styles and materials were used to create sleeping caps beginning in the 1950s. Marking the end of the simplicity in clothing due to the Great Depression and rationing of textiles and goods during World War II, these attractive new styles became popular immediately. Crocheted designs, lace, satin and silk became the materials of choice. Women generally purchased these night caps from specialty boutiques, drug stores or department stores.


The "Do-Rag" is probably the most modern sleeping cap used today.

The popular style of sleep cap used today by those who have braided hair or a hair-do with little volume is the “do-rag.” With designs for both women and men, do-rags may either have an elastic band or two ties that are draped around the head and tied in place. Sally Beauty Supply, NY Biker Gear and Conair are some of the most popular manufacturers for common styles of the do-rag. Conair also produces sleep caps with a gathered seam, ruffles and more space for women with short curly-styled hair. Specialty styles of do-rags are often worn during the day as a fashion accessory, rather than a sleep aid.

Adult sleep caps designed for warmth are found in greatest supply from Special fleece caps for those who have lost hair due to chemotherapy are also made. Additionally, this company makes a comical “elf” sleep cap, which resembles the old traditional pointy style. Department stores and drug stores usually carry a variety of sleep caps for warmth and hair style upkeep. Expectant Mother’s Guide recommends organic materials be used for baby sleep caps, due to the lower amount of toxins and lowered threat of skin irritation. Some popular companies selling organic baby sleep caps are Toys R Us, Kiddopotamus and Funkoos. Night caps are not nearly as common today as they were 200 years ago, but they still do serve several useful purposes.

So, for those of you who want to keep themselves or their baby warm at night, and for those of you who wish to keep their hair looking good for the next day, the old-fashioned sleeping cap is still highly recommended.

For this reason, for those of you about to sleep, offers you a tip of our proverbial (sleep) hat!

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