For Better Sleep, Take a Warm Bath

Taking a hot bath every evening is a natural way to decrease stress and anxiety, and ease yourself into a good night's sleep. Here's how to make this pre-bedtime ritual work for you.

Timing is Everything

Figure out how much sleep you need and what time you need to go to bed to get that amount. Take your bath or shower about an hour to an hour and a half before going to sleep and stay in the water for at least 15 minutes. The rise in body temperature you experience when you get into the tub will help you start to relax, but it is the cooling down stage when you get out of the bath that actually makes you feel tired enough to fall asleep. Taking a bath well in advance of going to bed also leaves time for some relaxation techniques, such as listening to classical music or getting in some light reading before you doze off.

Deep Sleep Bonus

As you get older, changes in your circadian rhythm, or normal biological cycle, can affect your sleep habits and cause insomnia. That's because your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep is influenced by your core body temperature, which is controlled by circadian cycles. A University of Washington review of related research, published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, found three studies showing that passive body heating, such as relaxing in a warm bath for 30 minutes, not only helps older people fall asleep more quickly, but also increases the amount of time spent in deep sleep stages.

Feet First

A small study published in the Journal of Physical Anthropology and Applied Human Sciences found that even a hot footbath can help you fall asleep faster. The researchers recommend footbaths before sleeping to anyone who is unable to take a full bath, and say it is an especially good idea for those who are elderly or disabled.

Hot Hot Hot

It's important to keep the water warm while you're in the tub, according to another small study published in the journal Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. These researchers compared the results when a small group of young female adults bathed for one and a half hours in either warm or cool water. The warm water bathers were significantly sleepier at bedtime, and spent more time in stages of deep sleep than usual. The cool water bathers experienced no significant change in their sleep patterns at all.



Horne JA and Reid AJ. "Night-time Sleep EEG Changes Following Body Heating in a Warm Bath." Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. 1985 Feb; 60(2):154-7. Web 12 Aug 2011

Liao, WC. "Effects of Passive Body Heating on Body Temperature and Sleep Regulation in the Elderly: A Systematic Review."  International Journal of Nursing Studies 2002 Nov; 39(8):803-10. Web 12 Aug 2011

Sung EJ and Tochihara Y. "Effects of Bathing and Hot Footbath on Sleep in Winter." Journal of Physical Anthropology and Applied Human Sciences 2000 Jan; 19(1):21-7. Web 12 Aug 2011