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Published on June 23, 2021

How To Take a Cold Shower For the Best Health Benefits

How To Take a Cold Shower For the Best Health Benefits
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Cold showers were considered beneficial as early as 1600 B.C.[1] However, thanks in part to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Lab on Netflix, The Wim Hof Method brought the benefits of cold showers into mainstream American media.

Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, is known for his ability to tolerate extreme temperatures. He credits this ability to a series of breathing exercises, meditation, and exposure to cold temperatures.[2] One study suggests that the Wim Hof Method leads to a release of brain chemicals, which result in decreased sensitivity to cold and increased feelings of euphoria.[3]

However, the benefits of mindfulness and breathing exercises are already widely known while less is known about the benefits of cold exposure. So, is there any merit to this particular facet of the Wim Hof Method?

This article will focus on cold exposure—the history, benefits, and how to take a cold shower to maximize its benefits.

In ancient Rome, individuals walked through multiple heated rooms that culminated in a dip into a cold pool. This practice is called “frigidarium.” It is still practiced today in spas and saunas.[4]

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In Finland and Norway, it is also a common practice for individuals to intermittently expose themselves to cold temperatures while sauna bathing. Individuals may do so by stepping outside during cold weather, sitting in the snow, or taking a cold shower. In warmer weather, individuals may step into ice-water between sunbathing. For instance, during five to fifteen minutes of sunbathing, they may step into ice-water three to five times for five seconds or longer.[5]

In Russia, individuals celebrate an event called “Epiphany” by swimming in the cold. In the Orthodox Calendar, Jesus was baptized on January 19th. Therefore, to recognize this date’s significance, individuals will plunge themselves into ice-holes three times. To prepare for this, they take cold showers every day for a week leading up to the event.[6]

Moreover, winter swimming is commonly practiced in countries such as Lithuania, Finland, Poland, Denmark, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia.[7] How is that for an extreme sport?

The Dark History of Cold Showers

Conversely, in the early 1700s, cold showers were reserved for individuals with mental disorders. At that time, mania was believed to be a condition that could boil the blood and the brain, and a cool shower appeared to be the natural cure.[8]

By the 1800s, mental illness was believed to be caused by inflammation, but cold showers remained a treatment of choice in mental asylums. Unfortunately, this resulted in treatments designed to shock individuals with intense water pressure and prolonged cold exposure.

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Fortunately, by the 1900s, these practices were abandoned, but the rising concern of hygiene led to the development of the showers utilized today. Nearly 150 years after they were developed for use in asylums, showers become a mainstay of modern hygiene practices.[9]

The Benefits of Cold Exposure

Here are three main benefits of cold exposure or taking cold showers to your overall health.

1. Fewer Sick Days

A study found that individuals who take cold showers take 29% fewer sick days than those who do not. This shocking statistic can be achieved in as little as 30 seconds of cold water exposure for 30 days. Nevertheless, the individuals were not sick any less, they just tolerated it better.[10]

2. Improved Appearance of Skin and Hair

Cold showers may also help to improve the appearance of your skin and hair. How does it work? Exposure to cold constricts blood flow, leading to a glow. Furthermore, cold water helps keep the skin hydrated, giving it a better appearance.[11]

3. Increased Well-Being

Exposure to cold water may also have an impact on your mental health. In a case study on cold swimming, one woman was able to decrease her use of anti-depressants and eventually replace them entirely with cold swimming. However, this is just one example. Further research is needed to support the use of cold therapy for the treatment of depression.[12]

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Regular winter swimming is associated with decreases in fatigue, tension, and negative mood states. It has also been linked with decreased pain for individuals diagnosed with rheumatism, fibromyalgia, or asthma. In the general population, winter swimming is linked with increased well-being.[13]

How to Take a Cold Shower for the Best Health Benefits

Cold showers have been around for centuries, both as a cultural and medical practice. However, there is limited research that suggests the right way to shower to obtain the most health benefits. Therefore, this is not a prescribed approach. This is simply a suggestion as you begin to experiment with cold showers, and the effects may vary from individual to individual.

While the evidence is limited, there are many cultural practices in place for individuals curious about cold showers, bathing, and swimming. Many spas may offer hot and cold water therapies as a form of relaxation. Furthermore, many individuals around the world enjoy sitting in hot and cold springs. Yet, one does not need to travel to experience this for themselves. Try it for yourself: simply turn down the dial during your next shower and see how you react to cold exposure.

Taking a Cold Shower for Fewer Sick Days

Here’s a very simple three-step guide to taking a cold shower.

  1. Take a shower at your usual temperature.
  2. At the end of the shower, turn the faucet to cold and remain under the cold water for at least 30 seconds.
  3. Repeat this practice daily for at least 30 days.

That is it. This method may help decrease your sick days by 29%. To further increase the odds to 54%, you could also try adding regular exercise into your routine.[14]

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Contraindications

Cold showers are not an adequate replacement for mental health or medical treatment. Furthermore, individuals with underlying medical or mental health conditions should consult their medical professionals before engaging in cold showering.

Conclusion

Ultimately, there is no prescribed empirically-based method for the benefits of cold showers. Research is still inconclusive when it comes to most of the major benefits of cold showers. Nevertheless, many individuals who practice this technique swear by the benefits.

The Wim Hof Method is just one example of cold exposure gaining momentum in the health and wellness industry. In fact, this practice has been around for centuries, and it is clearly here to stay.

While research still needs time to catch up, there is only way one to find out what works best for you. Give it a try, turn down the dial, and turn your shower into a day at the spa. You have as little as 30 seconds to lose and potentially a lot more to gain!

More Benefits of Taking a Cold Shower

Featured photo credit: kevin Baquerizo via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Olivia Schnur

Olivia is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher. She writes about healing, health and happiness.

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1 Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better 2 What Is the Best Time to Take Your Vitamins? 3 Do Vitamins and Supplements Help With Energy? 4 7 Ways Regular Exercise Boosts Your Mood And Energy 5 How To Take a Cold Shower For the Best Health Benefits

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Published on July 15, 2021

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better
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Are you having trouble sleeping? Or do you feel like you can barely stay awake when you need to? Are you left tired and irritable, lacking the joy and motivation that life once brought? If these complaints are tied to your long or rotating work schedule, you may be suffering from shift work disorder—a common ailment among professions with schedules outside the typical 9 am to 6 pm range.[1]

Why does it matter? Let’s be honest—being tired stinks. It feels terrible and leaves you vulnerable to many health risks that well-rested people aren’t as susceptible to. Not only that, but it can also wreak havoc on your relationships and quality of life.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help manage this, and you can start trying them out today! Some of the solutions may not be what you expect. For instance, you might have linked improved sleep to exercise, but did you know that being compassionate with yourself can also have an impact?

Who Are Affected by Shift Work Disorder?

Twenty-five million people are shift workers in the country, so you are far from alone if you are struggling with this. Shift work disorder is a condition frequently affecting anyone who works a job where their schedule is outside standard business hours. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers are common examples of professions with schedules that rotate around the clock.

Rotating shifts naturally leads to a change in one’s schedule, including sleep. As your sleep schedule becomes more chaotic, your body is unable to adjust and regulate itself and can result in having difficulty falling or staying asleep. This inevitably leads to less sleep, which is where some big problems can arise.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sleep is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of our lives. Enough sleep and good quality sleep are critical to our emotional, mental, and physical health.

Insufficient sleep can lead to a significantly increased risk of physical health problems, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Mentally, being tired contributes to having scattered concentration, difficulty processing information, and being more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Emotionally, the fallout of being chronically exhausted is linked to poor emotional regulation including being irritated more quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.[2]

Any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading for some scientifically-based tips to help you manage your sleep better and get your life back.

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17 Ways to Manage Shift Work Disorder Better

Quality sleep, or the lack thereof, impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most impactful plan of attack against shift work disorder and to regain quality sleep must also reflect that.

I suggest reading through all of the tips and formulating a plan based on what you think will work for you. Start by trying out one thing and build from there as you are able. Remember to construct a plan that addresses your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Let’s start in the most obvious place first:

Your Job

1. Make Your Schedule the Best It Can Be

Randomly rotating shifts has been found to have the worst impact on our health.[3] If you have to rotate your schedule, request to rotate shifts in a clockwise fashion.

For example: work the day shift, rotate to the nights, then to the early morning shift, then start back on the day shift. Sounds silly? It’s not. Studies show that our bodies more easily adjust to changes in schedule when completed in a clockwise manner.[4] This is because of something called our circadian rhythm—24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock that carry out essential functions. The most commonly known of these is sleep. It has been discovered that our circadian rhythm adjusts forward more easily than it does backward.

2. Speak to Your Manager About Keeping Your Workplace Bright

Special lights have been designed to assist with circadian rhythm. It turns out that absorbing bright light that is most similar to sunlight can positively impact regulating our circadian rhythm.[5]

3. Avoid a Long Commute to and From Work

Having a long drive home after working a rotating shift is statistically not in your best interest. It’s been shown that fatigued/sleepy employees are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident and 33% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.[6]

To avoid putting yourself at risk by driving when you’re not at your best, catch a nap before leaving work, pull over to sleep, or stay at a friend’s house nearby.

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4. Speak to Your Manager About Your Concerns

Many companies that operate around the clock are willing and able to make accommodations to those working alternative shifts. Whether it’s helping you find a schedule that works best for you or connecting you with other programs designed to support your well-being, being in good communication with your employer is to everyone’s benefit.

Sleep Attitudes and Environment

5. Change Your Perspective and Start Prioritizing Sleep

Here’s the deal: despite some pretty well-known dangerous effects of not getting enough sleep, somewhere along the line, our society began to think of sleep as a luxury. Some even consider it a badge of honor to “power through” without much (or any) sleep. People have been made to feel embarrassed or lazy if they get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

Here’s the bottom line: sleep is not a luxury.

Let me repeat that—sleep is not a luxury, and getting a consistent and healthy amount does not make you a slacker. Sleep is actually when our body does a lot of repair work on itself—blood vessels, muscles, and other organs. Sleep also boosts our immunity.

If we could help people feel as proud about sleeping as we do about them working out regularly or sticking to a healthy diet, people might be a lot healthier.

6. Make Your Sleep Space as Conducive to Rest as Possible

This means tweaking your environment so it’s as enticing as possible for your body to go to sleep. Keep the room dark using blackout blinds, reduce the temperature (our body rests best when slightly cool), limit interruptions (phone calls, visitors, noise), and remove electronic devices.[7]

Set yourself up for success by supporting yourself through your surroundings. If you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t frequently surround yourself with cookies, cake, and ice cream, right? Same idea here.

Personal Habits and Choices

7. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule as Closely as Possible—on Workdays and Days Off

This is obviously difficult when your schedule changes on the regular, but the more consistent you can keep your bedtime, the easier time your body has getting to sleep and staying that way.[8]

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8. Allow Yourself Time to Catch Up on Sleep

Having enough days off to rest and recuperate is an important aspect of protecting your health. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive across the country on one tank of gas, right? Filling your own personal gas tank is just as important.

9. Take Naps, but Don’t Overdo It

It’s recommended by the Cleveland Clinic to take a 90-minute nap just before starting your shift and then a 30-minute nap during your “lunch break” at work.[9] Again, this is all about keeping some gas in your tank and not allowing yourself to get to the point where you are running on fumes. Short naps will help you stay refreshed and alert on the job.

10. Limit Caffeine to the Start of Your Shift

Most of us love a good hit of caffeine, especially when we are tired. But overdoing it or having caffeine too late in your shift can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep when you finally have the time to do so. Moderate your intake to help yourself get some quality sleep.

11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Unwinding after work with a drink can be tempting. It can make you drowsy, which many people mistakenly believe will help them get better sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol will actually keep you awake (or wake you up later). This obviously impairs your ability to get the quality of sleep you are looking for.

12. Don’t Smoke

Much like alcohol, people turn to nicotine to “calm their nerves” or help them relax. Also, like alcohol, nicotine has been shown to disrupt sleep.[10] Cut back or cut this habit out as able.

13. Eat Well and Eat Smart

Choose convenient nutritious meals and snacks. Nutritious food is the foundation from which our body creates the needed chemicals for quality sleep. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar have been shown to have the worst impact on sleep.[11]

Also, timing is everything as they say. Eating too much or not enough before your shift can cause you to feel tired.

14. Get Regular Exercise

According to numerous studies, exercise can be as effective in treating sleep disorders as prescription medication.[12] Yes, you read that correctly—regular exercise is the bomb!

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This one can be tricky to convince people to do, especially if they are already tired and short on time. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, take a brisk walk, dance around your living room to your favorite song, or mow your lawn. Despite feeling tired, getting up off the couch and moving around (moderate to vigorous exercise) is best for reducing the time it takes to get to sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

Mental and Emotional

15. Establish Consistent Practices That Help You Relax Before Bed

This can include yoga, deep breathing, a warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, and hypnosis. These are designed to reduce physical tension and quiet your mind from thoughts that are keeping you awake. There are lots of great apps and free videos that can help you with this.

16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it’s known, works by helping you to identify thoughts and behaviors that make sleep worse and then developing new habits consisting of thoughts and behaviors that promote sleep. There are psychologists and life coaches who are specially certified in CBT that can help you with this.

17. Show Yourself Some Compassion

Sounds silly? Well, it’s not. A seven-year study conducted at the University of Mannheim concluded that the daily practice of self-compassion positively impacted people’s quality of sleep.[13]

The concept of showing ourselves compassion is foreign (and uncomfortable) to many of us. Try going easy on yourself for being grumpy, and give yourself some credit for the efforts you are making in tough circumstances. What would you say to your best friend if they were struggling with the same situation? I routinely ask my clients this question as it’s sometimes easier to be compassionate to others than ourselves. This tip might take some practice, but the effort could result in a better night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

Okay, there you have it—17 different ways you can help yourself manage shift work disorder, feel more rested, more like yourself, and enjoy life again. To get started with your plan, pick out a few tips that you can implement today, but remember to choose a well-rounded approach—addressing the physical, mental and emotional.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build new habits. And show yourself some compassion and kindness—you might just be able to sleep better when you do.

Featured photo credit: Yuris Alhumaydy via unsplash.com

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Reference

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