For as long as I can remember, I've been garbage at sleeping. Actual garbage. I've basically learned to survive with five or fewer hours of sleep a night. So I was pretty excited when life-hacking guru Tim Ferriss recently re-shared an older blog post with tips for sleeping better. His off-the-wall suggestions for improving other things have been extremely successful for me, so I wanted to see what he had to say about sleep.
He suggested a few tricks that I'd tried already and a few that I wasn't particularly interested in. But one in particular caught my eye: "Use ice baths to provoke sleep."
Could this be the magical cure I've been searching for my whole life?!
Ferriss recommends 10-minute baths one hour before bed, adding two to three bags of ice from the grocery store, and hopping in once the ice is almost all melted. Easy! (Right?)
I decided to try it for a week and track my results.
I live in the very tippy-top of a giant old house, so the thought of walking to the store to get ice and lugging said ice up to my apartment every night sounded like exactly zero fun. (I'm lazy, OK?) Instead, I decided to just make my own. It was a tad annoying to remember to make enough ice each day, but I got used to it after a couple of days, and it integrated fairly flawlessly into the rest of my daily routine.
So, the getting-in part — OH MY STARS! Not pleasant. I scared the cat pretty much nightly with my shrieks and shouts of foul language from the bathroom. The coldness hits you hard, and it hurts. After a couple of days, I decided that rather than slowly lowering myself in, I'd go with the Band-Aid removal technique and get it over with quickly.
But the actual baths? Honestly, I quite enjoyed them.
I play soccer and run fairly regularly, so I struggle with shin splints. They vary from slightly annoying to debilitating, and when they're debilitating, they keep me from walking properly. Before I started my ice bath experiment, I'd say I was somewhere in the middle; they were definitely more than a bit annoying, but the pain wasn't keeping me from doing my usual activities either. The baths felt AWESOME after a game and/or running. My shins really seemed to perk up in the week I froze myself regularly.
The baths also definitely helped me fall asleep; however, I can't say I noticed any consistent change in how long I stayed asleep.
One problem that might have been related to the bath or been completely random: The ice seemed to make menstrual cramps worse. A lot worse. I made it through the obligatory 10 minutes, but not without much weeping and gnashing of teeth. I don't know if the particularly bad cramps were inevitable with or without the ice bath, but I do know I was unusually miserable. I definitely don't recommend taking ice baths during your period.
Ferriss notes that you need to wait an hour between the bath and sleeping or else "the adrenergic response of noradrenalin, etc. won't allow you to sleep." On days I was ready to go to sleep 45 minutes or so after the bath, I noticed I definitely didn't sleep as well as the days I held out for an hour or more.
During my last day of this experiment, I wanted a control day. I decided to go to bed without taking an ice bath. Despite being absolutely exhausted when I burrito'd (is that a verb?... totally making that a verb) myself in bed, I didn't fall asleep for at least an hour and then only stayed asleep for a few minutes. Again, there were too many factors going on to know for sure that an ice bath would have knocked me out, but I'm willing to bet the lack of an ice bath may have played a part.
After trying them out for a week, I do ultimately recommend ice baths. They honestly seemed to help me fall asleep. I don't know whether the results were a placebo effect or if the baths were actually effective, but I don't particularly care — I just want to get some rest.
Once you get over the shock of getting in the tub, they really do feel awesome. They helped my various aches and running injuries, and they lowered my body temperature enough to relax me. It's also a good excuse to refocus your mind. I read during my frigid 10 minutes, but it could also be a good time to meditate, journal, or listen to music. Definitely try it at least once!
Happy tubbing! (And burrito'ing!)