Do Hot Baths, Steam Rooms or Saunas Improve Sleep Quality?

The twenty-first variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine its impact on sleep is heat and water. I will see if having a sauna, spa or steam session in the evening could assist sleep quality.

I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective saunas, steam rooms and hot baths can be for improving sleep.

bathroom bathtub ceramic clean

HOW COULD HEAT OR WATER IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

Saunas, steam rooms, hot baths and spas or jacuzzis are used in almost every culture around the world. Which method people use the most varies, but they are often seen as a positive activity for health. This may be the cleansing nature of the task, the relaxation they provide, or even the social or spiritual elements.

I’m not sure if there has been many studies looking directly into the positive benefits these activities can have on sleep, but I do know of a number of clients I see who have a warm bath to unwind and relax at the end of a tough day, in the hope that it may lead to a better night’s sleep for them. I wonder if it will do the same for me.

estonian-saunas-685204-unsplash

THE EXPERIMENT

I am pretty lucky to live in an apartment complex with a steam room, sauna and spa bath or jacuzzi as part of our facilities. This made it pretty easy to test if these activities could assist my sleep.

For the first four nights, I used the steam room for 30-minutes between 9:00 and 9:30pm.

For the middle five nights, I used the sauna for 30-minutes between 9:00 and 9:30pm.

For the last five nights, I used the hot spa with jets for 30-minutes between 9:00 and 9:30pm

Let’s see which intervention had the most positive impact on my sleep…

THE OUTCOME

sleep diary episode 21 - sauna:steam:spa.jpg

Comparison: Steam room vs Sauna vs Spa

Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. Sauna – 0.2 per night
    2. Spa – 0.4 per night
    3. Steam room – 1.75 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. Steam room – 7 hours 47 minutes
    2. Spa – 7 hours 15 minutes
    3. Sauna – 7 hours 0 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. Sauna – 11:14 pm
    2. Spa – 10:53 pm
    3. Steam room – 10:15 pm
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Steam room – 7 hours 16 minutes
    2. Spa – 6 hours 57 minutes
    3. Sauna – 6 hours 44 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Steam room – 10 minutes
    2. Spa – 13 minutes
    3. Sauna – 14 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. Sauna – 2 minutes
    2. Spa – 5 minutes
    3. Steam room – 21.75 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. Sauna – 6:19 am
    2. Spa – 6:08 am
    3. Steam room – 6:03 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. Sauna – 5/5
    2. Spa – 4.6/5
    3. Steam room – 4.25/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. Sauna – 96.14%
    2. Spa – 95.86%
    3. Steam room – 93.31%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

The sauna won 6 categories, and the steam room won 3. Interestingly, the spa with jets did not win any category, but it also wasn’t the worst in any category either.

The sleep quality of 5/5 after the sauna was the best it had been for the entire year, which was quite surprising. I barely woke up at all but didn’t get as much sleep as I did in the other conditions.

IS HAVING A SAUNA OR STEAM OR HOT BATH A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

bath bathroom bathtub indoors

IS IT EFFECTIVE?

Yes. With only a half an hour of time in the sauna, steam room or spa about 60-90 minutes before bed, I fell asleep early and quickly and slept well throughout the night. For me, I’d be happy to keep doing any of the three strategies when I felt like it as an excellent way to relax, tune into my body and be mindful in the evening, with the sauna being the most effective. Doing it too closely to bed may not be as helpful as it can take a while to cool down, but the drop in body temperature can also bring on sleepiness and result in faster sleep onset.

I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 22/25.

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

This would depend on accessibility. For me, it was easy to apply as I had all three options in my apartment complex. Going to a sauna or steam room could become expensive if you had to pay for it every time, however, and may not be accessible either. If people have a hot bath at home, that could be just as good. A hot shower would be available to most people, but I am not sure if that is as effective.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy a 16/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

A 1985 study by Bunnell and Horvath woke up 10 participants during the middle of their sleep and put them in hot water for 30-minutes before allowing them to go back to sleep. Their core body temperature returned back to normal within 60-minutes. Interestingly, their REM sleep or time taken to get back to sleep was no different than the group that was woken without the hot water immersion. They did have a deeper sleep in their subsequent sleep, especially the second cycle of sleep once they fell back to sleep (Bunnell & Horvath, 1985).

A follow-up study published in 1988 compared people who immersed themselves in hot water (41 degrees) for an hour in the morning, afternoon, early evening, and late evening (Bunnell, Agnew, Horvath, Jopson & Wills, 1988). They found that late evening immersion, which finished just before bedtime resulted in more deep sleep in the first sleep cycle that night. The early evening exposure had a quicker sleep onset time and more deep sleep in the second to fourth sleep cycles that night (Bunnell, Agnew, Horvath, Jopson & Wills, 1988).

A 2018 systematic review by Hussain and Cohen looked at 40 studies on the benefits of dry sauna bathing, including 13 randomised control trials. The majority of the studies reported beneficial health effects, with limited data suggesting a positive impact on sleep.

I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 30/50.

Overall, using a sauna, steam room or hot bath before bed as a way to wind down and sleep better gets a score of 22/25 + 16/25 + 30/50 =

68/100: Credit

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WHAT I RECOMMEND

If you have a bathtub at home, having a 30-minute to 60-minute bath in the early evening or late evening is likely to help you get more deep sleep that night. It could assist in reducing your arousal levels or by producing a drop in your body temperature before sleep. Saunas, spas or steam rooms are what I experimented with and found them all helpful, but there isn’t a heap of evidence suggesting that they are useful for sleep.

Like all of my recommendations, try the technique out for yourself if you think it would help, see if it does work for you, and then if it is easy to build into your regular daily routine, see if it can become a helpful habit for you over time. Don’t try to change everything at once. Start with one thing, see if it works, and then move onto the next thing if it does not.

Thanks for reading! If you would like a personalised sleep report and the five best things that you could do to best improve your sleep, please check out our services.

Can Music Help You to Relax at Night and Sleep Better?

The twentieth variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine its impact on sleep is music. I will see if listening to music before bed can help me to wind down and feel sleepy earlier, and if listening once I am in bed helps me to get off to sleep quicker. 

I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective music can be for improving sleep.

person playing sun burst electric bass guitar in bokeh photography

HOW COULD MUSIC IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

For most people, listening to some form of music is a very positive experience. The type of music and the way that they listen to it varies a lot from person to person, but it really can help people to feel more energised, perform better at work, in sport or at the gym. High tempo music is excellent for that, and I couldn’t imagine how different an F45 session would feel without dance, pop or hip-hop music pumping out of the speakers.

At the other end of the spectrum, slow, relaxing music, instrumental music and nature sounds have been generally connected with calming feelings and environments. I know a few people personally who swear by listening to classical music while they are writing or studying. A look at the favorite playlists on Spotify at night time also indicates that classical and piano music is utilised by a lot of people to try and wind down and relax at night in the hope of getting a better night’s sleep.

THE EXPERIMENT

chords sheet on piano tiles 

For the first week, I listened to classical or instrumental music (no vocals) for 30-minutes before bed for the first four nights and then switched to calming music involving lyrics for the next three nights. I did not listen to any music in bed.

For the second week, I did not listen to any music before bed, but used white noise in bed with a 30-minute timer for the first three nights (a setting on the relax melodies app), and listened to nature sounds using the relax melodies app in bed with a 30-minute time for the next four nights.

Let’s see which strategy had the best impact on my sleep for the two weeks…

THE OUTCOME

sleep diary episode 20 - music.jpg

Comparison: Classical Music vs Lyrical Music vs White Noise vs Relaxing Melodies

Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. Lyrical music – 0.33 per night
    2. White noise – 1 per night
    3. Nature sounds – 1.25 per night
    4. Classical music – 1.25 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. Lyrical music – 7 hours 55 minutes
    2. Nature sounds – 8 hours 25 minutes
    3. White noise – 7 hours 27 minutes
    4. Classical music – 7 hours 25 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. Classical music – 11:01 pm
    2. White noise – 10:50 pm
    3. Nature sounds – 10:11pm
    4. Lyrical music – 9:55pm
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Lyrical music – 7 hours 38 minutes
    2. Nature sounds – 7 hours 55 minutes
    3. Classical music – 7 hours 00 minutes
    4. White noise – 6 hours 54 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Classical music – 8.75 minutes
    2. Nature sounds – 8.75 minutes
    3. Lyrical music – 10 minutes
    4. White noise – 20 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. Lyrical music – 6.67 minutes
    2. White noise – 13.33 minutes
    3. Classical music – 16.65 minutes
    4. Nature sounds – 21.67 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. Nature sounds – 6:36 am
    2. Classical music – 6:26 am
    3. White noise – 6:17 am
    4. Lyrical music – 5:50am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. Lyrical music – 4.67/5
    2. Nature sounds – 4.5/5
    3. White noise – 4.33/5
    4. Classical music – 4/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. Lyrical music – 96.49%
    2. Classical music – 94.38%
    3. Nature sounds – 93.48%
    4. White noise – 92.54%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 6 points for lyrical music, 2 for classical music, 1 for nature sounds, and 0 for white noise, listening to lyrical music that I found relaxing for 30 minutes before bed was the best overall strategy for my sleep, with better sleep efficiency, sleep quality, more sleep, less awakenings and less time awake during the night.

The worst strategy was listening to white noise for 30-minutes in bed. This makes sense, as I found it the most annoying one to try, but I had heard some good things from other people, so I’m glad I gave it a go. Listening to nature sounds in bed was more effective than white noise for helping me get off to sleep and sleeping longer each night.

 

IS LISTENING TO MUSIC A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

woman looking up while wearing headphones

IS IT EFFECTIVE?

Yes, I believe so. Listening to relaxing lyrical music before bed led to an excellent sleep quality of 4.67/5 and a sleep efficiency of 96.49%. Classical music before bed led to worse sleep quality, maybe because of the lack of words which led to more space for me to think about things. It still wasn’t too bad though, and listening to nature sounds in bed was good also. White noise was not too helpful for me.

I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 20/25.

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

Easily. If you have a smartphone, computer or cd player, you can listen to music either before bed or in bed. In bed, it may be harder to listen, especially if you have a partner who doesn’t want you to listen to something. Headphones could help in these situations, and I used to do this quite a bit back when I travelled the world for 8 months back in 2009. It doubled as a noise blocker in the various hostels we stayed in.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy an 18/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

A 2008 study showed that 45-minutes of listening to classical music at bedtime for 3-weeks led to significantly improved sleep quality. This also led to a significant drop in depressive symptoms across the 3 weeks. Groups who listened to 45-minutes of audiobooks at bedtime did not show the same statistical improvements in sleep and depression severity (Harmat, Takacs & Bodizs, 2008).

A Taiwanese study found similar improvements in older adults (aged 60-83) across 3 weeks (Lai & Good, 2006). Five types of Western music and a kind of Chinese music were compared, 45-minutes of all kinds of music at bedtime led to better sleep quality, sleep efficiency, longer sleep, and less dysfunction during the day. More encouragingly, sleep kept improving with each week of treatment, indicating increasing effectiveness with time (Lai & Good, 2006).

A more recent study also found that 2-weeks of listening to music at home led to better sleep quality, stress and anxiety in 61 pregnant women in comparison to a control group (Yu-Hsiang, ChihChen, Chen-Hsiang & Chung-Hey, 2016).

I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 35/50.

Overall, using music as a way to wind down and sleep better gets a score of 20/25 + 18/25 + 35/50 =

73/100: Distinction

photography of woman listening to music

WHAT I RECOMMEND

Listening to music before bed could help if you find this an effective way to relax and wind down at night. It could also help to listen to it in bed for the first 30-45 minutes of the night, as this may help you to keep your mind off your worries, help your arousal levels remain low, and help you to have a better quality of sleep.

If you are interested, try what I have, and experiment with different types of music, both before bed and in bed, and see what helps you to have a better night’s sleep. If none of them helps, just move on to a different strategy. What works for you may be different to everyone else. The key is to see if it helps you to stay relaxed and calm at night time. If it does, go to bed once you are sleepy, then allow sleep to come. The more you try to force sleep, the less likely it is to occur.

Thanks for reading! If you would like a personalised sleep report and the five best things that you could do to best improve your sleep, please check out our services.

Would a Regular Massage During the Day Improve Your Sleep at Night?

The nineteenth variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine its impact on sleep is massage. I will see if having three deep tissue massages in a week can have a substantial effect on sleep quality. 

I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective massage can be for improving sleep.

HOW COULD MASSAGE IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

For most people, massages are both a relaxing and an indulgent activity that helps them to enjoy life and look after their health. I personally don’t like to be touched that much, but I do like the after-effects of a good deep tissue massage. I usually do feel more energetic, focused, relaxed and in less pain than I was beforehand

I wasn’t sure if massages would help me sleep better at night, but a few of my clients said that it helped them, and I thought that this would be an excellent excuse to get multiple massages in a week to see what I could find out.

THE EXPERIMENT

adult alternative medicine care comfort

For the first week, I did some form of exercise every day but didn’t get any massage or do any stretching following a game, swim or work out.

For the second week, I got three 60-minute deep tissue massages on the Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the late afternoon/early evening.

Let’s see if the three massages had any impact on my sleep for the week…

THE OUTCOME

sleep diary episode 19 - massage

Comparison: Massage vs No Massage

Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. No treatment – 1 per night
    2. Massage – 1.29 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. Massage – 7 hours 33 minutes
    2. No treatment – 7 hours 33 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. Massage – 10:51 pm
    2. No treatment – 12:15 am
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Massage – 7 hours 9 minutes
    2. No treatment – 7 hours 9 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Massage – 7.14 minutes
    2. No treatment – 10.71 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. No treatment – 13.57 minutes
    2. Massage – 16.43 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. No treatment – 7:51 am
    2. Massage – 6:24 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. No treatment – 4.43/5
    2. Massage – 4.14/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. Massage – 94.70%
    2. No treatment – 94.70%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 5.5 points to 3.5 points, the no treatment week was a generally better week of sleep than the week after I had three massages.

The massages definitely seemed to help on the days that I had them, but the improvements didn’t really generalise to subsequent nights. What was a lot better on the massage week was how early I went to sleep at night and got out of bed in the morning. This was surprising because massage shouldn’t lead to any changes in my biological clock as far as I know.

What getting a massage did seem to do was relax me a lot and reduce physical tension on the days I had one, and as a result fell asleep earlier and quicker at night-time. By going to bed earlier, I was then able to get out of bed earlier the next morning.

IS GETTING REGULAR MASSAGES A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

board brown daylight destination

IS IT EFFECTIVE?

It depends. It didn’t improve my sleep quality in comparison to regular exercise the week before. It did help me to fall asleep early and quickly though, which is good for people with sleep onset insomnia or people who want to sleep earlier so that they can get up earlier in the mornings. This would be especially helpful for people who always feel rushed in the morning, or for people who want to exercise or meditate in the morning before work.

I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 15/25.

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

It can, but it would get expensive very quickly. A 60-minute massage in the CBD in Melbourne ranges from $60 to $95 and can be even more at day spas. Becuase the improvements didn’t seem to last beyond that night for my sleep unless you have a partner who is good at giving massages and would mind giving you one every night, there are probably cheaper and more accessible strategies for you to use if you want to improve your sleep.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy a 10/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

Massage has been found to have sleep benefits in infants and toddlers with sleep onset problems, with 15 minutes of massage before bedtime over a month leading to less sleep delay behaviours and quicker times to sleep than infants and toddlers who were read bedtime stories (Field & Hernandez-Reif, 2001). They were also observed to be more alert and active during the day and had more positive moods by the end of the study than the children who were read bedtime stories  (Field & Hernandez-Reif, 2001).

A systematic review in 2000 by Richards, Gibson and Overton-McCoy looked at 22 articles on the impact of massage in acute and critical care. The most significant improvement was found in anxiety levels, with 80% reporting a significant reduction in perceived tension or anxiety scores. 70% of the original studies found that massage produced physiological relaxation, 30% found that it reduced pain, but the impact of massage on sleep was inconclusive (Richards, Gibson & Overton-McCoy, 2000).

I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 32/50.

Overall, using massages as a way to wind down and sleep better gets a score of 15/25 + 10/25 + 32/50 =

57/100: Pass

woman relaxing relax spa

WHAT I RECOMMEND

If you are feeling physically tense or carry a lot of stress in your body, shoulders or neck, getting a massage can feel great, help you relax and reduce your anxiety during the day. It may lead well to a shorter sleep onset and an earlier sleep time at night too and is better than reading a bedtime story for infants and young toddlers. It helped me get to bed earlier too, so if anxiety, physical tension, and falling asleep at the start of the night are a problem for you, getting a massage is definitely worth trying.

Hyper-arousal is a big factor in insomnia, so finding various ways to reduce your arousal levels is important if you want to improve your sleep. Massage is one way to do this, but there are cheaper and more accessible ways to do this too. Unless you do happen to live with someone who wants to help out by giving you a massage regularly in the evenings. Tell them The Sleep Detective said it would help, or take turns so that you can both benefit from the potential stress-reducing benefits of massage.

Thanks for reading! If you would like a personalised sleep report and the five best things that you could do to best improve your sleep, please check out our services.