Does a bath before bed really help sleep?

We might not always have time for a long soak before bed, but research shows that it could have a significant impact on the quality of our sleep.

From the moment we wake up, to the minute we fall asleep, our bodies are working hard. From the muscular impact and fatigue of a workout, to the small incremental stresses of board meetings, briefings and emails, our bodies are put under pressure from the moment we wake, to the second we fall asleep.

Why we need better sleep

We accumulate and carry tension in a number of ways, both physical and mental. Burnout is on the rise and in 2018 around 595,000 people in the UK alone suffered from workplace stress. The World Health Organization has now recognised burnout in their International Classification of Diseases Manual. Combined with widespread tensions like lower back pain and migraines, perhaps this is the reason that businesses focussed on improved cognitive performance are booming.

Nootropics supplements are a growth market, with claims of delivering better concentration, stamina and energy, while yoga and its plethora of physical and spiritual benefits are worth £74billion globally and rising.

But do we really need all these things in order to be our best selves? Adopting some of these practices might go a little way to recharging your batteries and making you feel a little less stressed, but one of the best ways to overcome tiredness and avoid burnout, is to get quality sleep - something far too few of us are prioritising.

So, back to the bath…

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that are the most overlooked. Had a hard day at the office, finding it difficult to switch off or calm your mind? Drawing yourself hot bath could give you more benefits than you initially thought.

As well as helping your muscles relax and soften, researchers at the Cockerel School of Engineering in Texas have found that bathing in water of 40-43°C an hour or two before bed can significantly improve sleep.

Our bodies are regulated by a circadian rhythm, a kind of clock located deep within the hypothalamus in our brains. The hypothalamus controls the 24-hour patterns of our bodies including sleep and wakefulness. Most importantly, one of the key drivers our hypothalamus uses to regulate these states, is temperature - as our bodies prepare for sleep, our core temperature drops.

Taking a dip in warm water stimulates the body’s thermoregulatory system. This increases the circulation of blood from your core to your hands and feet, which results in a more efficient removal of body heat and a decline in our actual body temperature. So if we take a bath one or two hours before we want to go to bed, our body temperature drops the right amount and lets our circadian rhythm kick in. This means we fall asleep super quick, and raises our chances of getting high quality sleep.

Sleep is our natural way of restoration and rest. It’s what allows us to function both cognitively and physically at an unprecedented level. It’s the number one priority for anyone looking to tap into high level human performance whether out on the racetrack, or in the boardroom. Prioritising that bath might not be such an indulgence after all…

November 11, 2020 — JAMIE SMALLEY

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