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How Hot Baths Help You Sleep and Alleviate Pain

Taking a hot bath is so relaxing, but who knew it also had health benefits?

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If you are seeking more ways to help you fall asleep at night, or need some help alleviating the pain that keeps you awake at night, keep reading.

Warm baths have been a well-known remedy for years for many people with insomnia or who have difficulty falling asleep. It’s been hypothesized that a warm bath helps because warm water relaxes the body and possibly because our core body temperature tends to drop after a bath.

Yet, a recent study examining the effectiveness of warm baths before bed explains that a warm bath is also a signal to the pineal gland in our brain to produce melatonin, your sleep hormone, which helps you sleep.

So, the question raised then is, when should you take this bath for it to be most effective?

Shahab Haghayegh, a doctoral researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, set out to investigate.

Here is what she discovered after doing a meta-analysis of over 5,000 studies:

The results of the analysis revealed that the best time for taking a shower or a bath is 1–2 hours before going to bed. The duration of the shower or bath does not need to be longer than 10 minutes to experience the benefits.

The warm bath calms the body down by improving the blood circulation from the core of the body to its periphery — that is, to the hands and feet. It appears that this will help improve sleep quality.

If you follow my power-down hour, and I hope you do, it looks like you should put a ten-minute bath or shower into your power down hour to help improve your sleep!

So how do you get rid of the pain (in your knee) before bed?

As we get older, pain becomes more common. In some cases, it could be arthritis, in others, it could be joint pain from injury or overuse. Whatever the cause, pain is pain and we all know that the more sleep-deprived you are, the worse your pain feels, and that results in worse sleep. It’s a vicious cycle. To answer the question, I thought I would put together a list of things you can do if you are experiencing pain prior to bed which may help:

  • Take a warm or hot bath before bed! Yes, I know you just read about this above, but in the case of pain, it holds true even more. The warm water helps relax muscles and reduces pressure on the knees and joints, which allows the body to be fully supported. It increases circulation and reduces swelling and inflammation.
  • Make sure you have a good sleeping position and mattress. The big thing to remember here is to have a little extra support for your area of pain. In this example, let’s look at your knees. If you are a side sleeper, putting a pillow between your legs for extra support is a good idea, and if you are a back sleeper putting one under your knees will help reduce pressure on your back.
  • Use a warm or cold pack. Many people find comfort in using heat or cold to reduce swelling and help with pain in a painful area. Twenty minutes of exposure to heat or cold will usually do the trick, about thirty minutes before lights out, while in bed.
  • Look at the timing of your medications. Sometimes when you are taking medications they wear off in the middle of the night. Talk with your doctor about when is the best timing for pain medication so that you are able to sleep through the night.
  • Weight loss. You knew this one would be in here, right? It’s probably obvious, but less weight on the skeletal frame will certainly help with pain reduction.
  • Change a few daily habits:

1. Stretch regularly, especially before and after exercising

2. Wear appropriate shoes

3. Use correct form when lifting weights or exercising

4. Wear compression wraps

My last suggestion to you? Get more sleep! Remember that sleep is healing, and if you’re in pain there is really almost no better medicine than rest.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor™

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