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Showering Before Bed – Is it a Good or a Bad Idea?

Depending on your daily schedule, you might choose to shower in the morning, at night, or somewhere in between, such as after a workout. Choosing when to shower is not just a matter of convenience, though; showering at different times of the day can have varying physiological effects. Did you know that showering at night could help you sleep better? 

Of course, this depends on when, exactly, you get into the shower and your temperature setting, so in this article, we’ll go over how to best shower at night to improve your sleep. 


Benefits of Showering Before Bed

There are several mental and physical health benefits to taking both hot and cold showers, but before bedtime, only one will help you sleep better (and the other might make you more alert at night) In these next two sections, we’ll go over what you can expect with either a hot or cold shower before bedtime. 

Does Showering Before Bed Help You Sleep? 

As mentioned, only one type of shower could help you sleep better at night, and it is a hot shower. Research shows that taking a hot shower (or bath) about one or two hours before bedtime1 can help with sleep. 

A cold shower, on the other hand, causes the body to temporarily release adrenaline2, which will give you a boost in energy. While this can be beneficial in certain cases, you should avoid it before bedtime if you aren’t trying to stay up late. 

Benefits of Hot Showers Before Bed

1. Lowers Your Core Body Temperature

It may seem counterintuitive that a hot shower before bed can help lower your core body temperature, but it’s true – at least when you time it right. When you take a hot shower (or bath) one to two hours before bed, it temporarily raises your temperature, but afterward, it causes a drop in your core temperature.1 

This is important for sleep because a drop in your core temperature3 signals to your body that it is time to start producing melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.

2. Relaxes the mind

If you’ve ever sat in the hot tub or taken a relaxing bath, you probably know the effect that hot water can have on stress. The same is true for taking a hot shower, but why exactly does hot water seem to wash away stress? 

It seems the warm water can decrease certain stress hormones4 and create more balanced serotonin levels, which help regulate mood. Plus, a warm bath or shower can give you some time alone, away from the demands of others, to decompress after a long day. 

3. Relaxes the muscles

Heat5 helps bring more blood to the area where it is applied, so in a shower, the heat from the water will bring blood to the surface of your skin. This increase in circulation can mean muscle relaxation and recovery for those with tight muscles, muscle spasms, or joint pain.5 

Since we tend to feel more pain at night6, taking a hot shower before bed could help you get better sleep if muscle pain is something that keeps you awake. 

4. Relieves Tension Headaches

Tension headaches7 are the most common type of headache and are a result of the muscles in the neck and scalp tensing up and contracting. This is often because of underlying stress, anxiety, or even a head injury.7 

Whatever the underlying cause, the shower’s hot water can help alleviate tension in the muscles. Not only that, but warm showers may even help some people with migraines8, though there is not a lot of definitive research on this. 

5. Reduces Swelling and Blood Sugar Levels

Hot water improves overall circulation9 in the body, which can ultimately result in decreased inflammation10 as well as a reduction in blood sugar levels. Since symptoms of inflammation in the body can include physical pain and insomnia11, and symptoms of high blood sugar can include extreme thirst and the need to urinate a lot12 – all of which could keep you awake through the night – a warm shower to mitigate these symptoms seems like a good idea.

6. Relieves Congestion

If you’ve ever tried to go to sleep with nasal congestion, you know firsthand how difficult this can be. The good news is the steam from a hot shower can help clear up congestion13. Much like a humidifier or breathing over a pot of boiling water, the shower’s steam will help “loosen things up” and lead to better breathing before bedtime. 

7. Removes Skin Toxins

If you’ve ever tried washing greasy dishes with cold water, you probably noticed that the grease didn’t budge. It’s the same with your skin. The hot water helps to cleanse away impurities that won’t go away with cold water alone. 

If you want to get scientific about this, it’s because the hot water has more kinetic energy14 than the cold water, meaning the molecules in hot water oscillate more rapidly. Going to bed with a clean face is important because the longer you keep dirt and toxins on your skin, the more likely you’ll wind up with clogged pores and a breakout.

Benefits of Cold Showers Before Bed

As we just learned, a hot shower one or two hours before bed will raise your body temperature immediately, and then cause it to drop, which then produces melatonin and leads to sleepiness.1 You might reasonably assume, then, that taking a cold shower before bed would be a shortcut to dropping your core body temperature for better sleep. 

However, cold showers seem to have the opposite effect – rather than make you sleepy, they give you a boost in energy and alertness.2

So, we don’t recommend a cold shower before bedtime, unless you’re trying to stay up late. That said, cold showers taken earlier in the day can have plenty of physical and mental health benefits. 

1. Promotes Alertness

There is a reason movies are constantly showing people being doused in cold water to wake them up: cold water temporarily increases the hormone cortisol, in other words, puts the body into a state of fight or flight.2 This feels like a burst of energy, improved focus, and alertness.2 

Doing this before bed will make sleep more difficult. However, if you have to stay up late for some reason, a cold shower might be a good alternative to a cup of coffee. 

2. Stimulates Immune System

 When the body is exposed to cold water, it goes into a brief state of shock, which among many other things, stimulates the blood cells15 that fight off infections. In one study16, people who switched to cold showers for 30 to 90 seconds for 90 days called in sick 29 percent less than those who didn’t. 

3. Stimulates Anti-Depression Hormones

As mentioned, when we initially encounter cold water, we go into a sort of shock. During this time, a lot is happening in the body. The sympathetic nervous system (or “fight or flight” response) is activated to create a surge of energy, the immune system is stimulated, and endorphins are released.2 

Endorphins are a group of certain hormones that can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety by acting on the brain’s opiate receptors.2 This is why cold showers seem to help with symptoms of both depression and anxiety17

4. Accelerates Metabolism

When the body is exposed to cold, it has to work harder to maintain its core temperature. This causes a temporary boost in your metabolism and an increase in calorie burning.2 That said, there is not a lot of research on whether or not this actually translates to long-term weight loss.2 

5. Frees the Mind

When you’re standing under a stream of freezing water, you’re probably not thinking about much else. There’s also some science behind this; when the body goes into a state of “fight or flight,” the mind becomes more focused and alert18. Biologically, this mechanism was designed to help us fight or flee from danger. In the shower, though, this might translate to time slowing down and simply being present with what your body is feeling.18

6. Tightens the Skin

Hot water can strip away the natural oils on your skin, which can leave your complexion dry and irritated. Cold water, on the other hand, doesn’t do this.2

Additionally, cold water leaves the skin feeling tighter and can reduce inflammation and puffiness in the face, as well as reduce the appearance of pores2

7. Reduces Hair Loss

Cold showers seem to seal the hair cuticle, which prevents moisture loss and damage to the hair overall. The result: less breakage, less hair loss, and healthier hair in general.2 

Additionally, if your hair is dyed, stylists recommend19 washing your hair with cold water to prevent the color from fading. 


Cold vs. Hot Showers: Which Is Better for Sleep?

A hot shower (or bath) taken one to two hours before bedtime can not only help you fall asleep, but also improve your quality of sleep through the night.1. Conversely, a cold shower will increase your feelings of focus, energy, and alertness.2

If you’re trying to get some good sleep, we’d recommend taking a hot shower and reserving your cold showers for moments when you need more energy.

Cold Plunges: A Fad or Beneficial? 

Cold plunges may be trendy right now, but this sort of cold therapy isn’t anything new. Just like cold showers, cold plunges have health benefits, including boosting the immune system, improving circulation, improving mental health and focus, reducing inflammation, and relieving localized pain.15

Starting with cold showers can be a good way to ease your body and mind into cold plunges, which are more intense. 

Saunas: Do They Provide The Same Benefits as a Hot Shower?

Saunas have some of the same benefits as hot showers. For example, if you get into the sauna about two hours before bed20, it has been shown to make you sleepy by lowering your core body temperature, just the same as a hot shower does. 

However, a sauna differs in that it is a much hotter, dryer heat. This extreme heat causes a series of reactions21 in the body; the heart rate goes up, blood flow goes to the skin, blood pressure can either rise or fall, and the body sweats a lot. 

Learn more: Using a Sauna Before Bed


Frequently Asked Questions

Is it bad to shower before bed? 

Showering before bed is a great idea, especially if you want to improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Just be sure to take a warm or hot shower one to two hours before you plan to go to sleep so your body has time to cool off, which should help you get to sleep.1

Is it good to take a cold shower before bed? 

Dousing your body in cold water activates the sympathetic nervous system, or the “fight or flight” response, which means you’ll feel more alert rather than sleepy.2 Unless you are trying to stay up later for whatever reason, taking a cold shower is best done earlier in the day when you need more energy. 


Conclusion

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably been showering at times that fit into your schedule or simply out of habit. As you now know, though, showering at different times and different temperatures can impact your physiology in a variety of ways. For a burst of energy and focus, a cold shower is best, but if you need help sleeping, try taking a hot shower.

Natalie G.

Natalie G.

Writer

About Author

Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.

Combination Sleeper

    Resources

  • 1. Nielsen, Susie. “A Warm Bedtime Bath Can Help You Cool Down And Sleep Better”. NPR. 2019.
  • 2. “Are Cold Showers Actually Beneficial or Just Another Social Media Trend?”. Texas Health. 2024.
  • 3. Harding, Edward C., Franks, Nicholas P., Wisden, William. “The Temperature Dependence of Sleep”. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2019.
  • 4. “Taking the Plunge: 5 Reasons Baths Are Good for You”. Cleveland Clinic. 2024.
  • 5. “Ice Packs vs. Warm Compresses For Pain”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Webpage accessed October 17, 2024.
  • 6. Solan, Matthew. “Do we feel pain more at night?”. Harvard Health Publishing. 2024.
  • 7. “Tension headache”. Mount Sinai. Webpage accessed October 17, 2024.
  • 8. “Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain”. Mayo Clinic. 2022.
  • 9. “Warm water works wonders on pain”. Arthritis Australia. Webpage accessed October 17, 2024.