Ways a Hot Bath is Beneficial to Your Body and Soul
I look forward to a hot bath most winter evenings. A 10-20 minute soak in the tub warms and relaxes my body. If my mind is chattering, as it usually is, reading a few pages of a novel while I soak calms and readies me for the longer reading time I will enjoy when I actually slip between the sheets.
So road testing this self-care tip wasn’t any kind of hardship. But, since I’m already a lover of hot baths, I have to take the extra steps to make sure that my recommendations are for actions that will definitely make a positive difference to your health and well-being. These self-care tips can’t be about actions that matter just to me.
I needed to ask some of those eternal ‘hot bath’ questions, questions like: “Can a nightly shower be as relaxing as a bath?”, “How hot is too hot?” and “Does a bath really help you get a better night’s sleep?”
I’ve done the research and found the answers. Here you go.
Does a hot bath really help you to get a better night’s sleep?
Yes. There are studies to show that a hot bath before bed will help you to fall asleep faster and will put you in a deeper sleep than if you hadn’t had the bath.
The reason this works is because the bathwater temporarily raises your body temperature. When you dry off and climb into bed, your body temperature drops a bit.
You can change the world with a hot bath, if you sink into it from a place of knowing that you are worth profound care, even when you’re dirty and rattled.Anne Lamott
How far in advance of bedtime should you have a hot bath?’
For many women, immediately before bed works. However, if you are going through menopause, or if you have trouble with insomnia, you probably have an elevated core temperature. A hot bath raises your temperature even further and it becomes more difficult to fall asleep. In that case, have your bath a couple of hours before bed so your body has a chance to cool.
How hot is too hot?
This is a personal preference, with the caveat that if you are feeling lightheaded during or after your bath, it’s too hot.
Heat feels good, especially in the winter, but do be cautious of heat stress. That’s what can happen when you submerge in really hot water. Your body’s internal regulation is thrown off and there isn’t enough exposed skin surface to allow you to sweat and recalibrate your system. Heat stress is hard on your heart, so be careful.
Do Epsom salts in a bath relieve sore muscles?
The answer to this one, surprisingly, is ‘No’. At the end of a well-researched, regularly updated, and very lengthy post, scientist and massage therapist Paul Ingraham concludes,
“I can do no better in defense of Epsom salt bathing for aches and pains than ‘anything is possible’. There is no good or specific reason to believe that bathing in dissolved Epsom salts will have the slightest effect on muscle soreness or injury recovery time.”
Which, if any, physical concerns does a hot bath help?
Hot baths do help with muscle soreness and stiffness, but because of heat, not Epsom salt. Heat:
- increases tissue elasticity, helping to relax knotted muscles.
- soothes and blocks pain sensors on irritated nerve endings.
- increases blood flow to the painful areas, speeding healing.
- stimulates your natural metabolic rate, which also speeds healing.
Arthritis sufferers experience the same benefits from a hot bath, for the same reasons.
If you ensure that your bath is both hot and steamy, a bath helps if you have a head cold. Steam clears out your nasal passages and reduces inflammation. And there is some evidence that keeping yourself warm helps your immune system fight a virus.
What should you do when the heat of a hot bath dries out your skin?
Dry, itchy skin definitely takes some of the pleasure out of a hot bath. To prevent dry skin in the first place, keep your bath to ten minutes or less.
But if a long soak is important to you, try adding a couple of tablespoons of olive oil or coconut oil to the water. Or you can put whole oats in a clean, dry sock, seal the open end with a rubber band, and drop the sock into the water. All three options act as moisturizers and should let you double your bath time to 20 times.
If self-care dictates that your bath lasts longer than 20 minutes, your options are to: indulge less often; use warm water instead of hot, or live with the dry skin. Every so often, my choice is the last one. It’s a trade-off I can live with.
Are there some good products to add to the tub?
Moisturizers, like the ones mentioned above, are helpful. Salts, including Epsom salt and bath bombs, also make your skin feel smoother.
Some women find that essential oils also make a difference. Bergamot, for example, is supposed to relieve stress.
Be careful of heavily scented soaps and bubbles, especially if you are prone to yeast infections.
To be a little less matter-of-fact and clinical about this, remembering that this is a post about self-care, there is something to be said for the pleasures of beautiful bath products. Maybe you too can relate to this quote from Douglas Adams:
Can a hot bath improve your mood?
According to a 2002 study from the University of Wolverhampton, hot baths improve both mood and optimism. The argument is that this is due to a combination of:
- being horizontal with water all around you. Apparently this has connotations of being in the womb. Our bodies associate being horizontal with relaxation and vulnerability. (That’s also the reason you see photos of babies bathing in buckets. I always thought it was just because it’s a cute photo,but apparently buckets are a ‘womb with a view‘, allowing the baby to mimic the fetal position he/she assumed in the womb.)
- having time alone
- being warm
But the best reason I read was that when you look down at yourself in the water, you look slimmer. Now that definitely improves my mood!
If you have had a particularly tough day, how can you use a hot bath to really relax?
Well, you can have a bath with your lover and continue ‘relaxing’ long after getting out of the tub.
Or, if you want or need to be alone, try this four step process recommended by Bathtub Yoga:
- Bring awareness to your body before getting into the tub by scrubbing gently with an exfoliating glove or brush.
- Add a favourite essential oil to the water. The scent encourages you to breathe slowly and calmly.
- Recline in the tub. (I think a headrest is a must.) Focus on your breath, breathing slowly in and out.
- Mentally travel your body from head to toe. Relax any muscle tension, directing one or two breaths to each area.
Anyone who thinks heaven is not hot water behind a locked door has forgotten what it means to live.Lucy Frank
Does a hot shower offer the same or more benefits than a hot bath?
This is an intensely debated topic, and I am far too smart (or too cowardly) to jump into the fray. Decide what you believe and why, then read this blog post which offers the most balanced perspective I could find.
Does environment matter?
I think that if you can close the bathroom door in your own home and escape for a while, that’s all you really need to make indulging in a hot bath a great act of loving self-care.
That said, like many women I’m not above enjoying a bit of decorating porn. For bathrooms to sigh over, often with views to die for, take a look at my Pinterest board.
Is a hot bath one of your self-care rituals? If so, details please! Do you enjoy oils, salts, bubbles? How long do you soak? Do you read while in the tub? Light scented candles? Enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea? Let us enjoy the experience with you by sharing your hot bath ritual in the comments section below. Thanks.