The health benefits of a good soak have been proven time and again. Is it time you perfected your bath ritual?
People are increasingly particular about their baths as winter rolls around. Some like theirs almost unbearably hot, others insist on having a window wide open and there are thousands of other variables when it comes to lighting, music and bath products. Whatever their preferences, die-hard bathers are all passionate about the benefits of a long soak. Even Sylvia Plath, who struggled with depression, famously wrote in The Bell Jar, “there must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”
“I become fixated on having a bath when it’s cold and dark outside and I can’t get warm,” says journalist Melissa Twigg. “I put a vat of bath oil in as I always have dry skin, turn down the lights low enough so it doesn’t feel clinical but not so low that I can’t read my book. If I’m feeling really indulgent I might have a drink too. I can stay in there for hours. It always calms me down and cleans off the memories of a difficult day.”
Melissa is not alone in finding that bathing lifts her mood. The University of Freiburg in Germany found that a half hour soak in a hot bath can drastically improve mental health. The team there asked 45 people who struggle with depression to take a half hour soak every day for eight weeks. By the end of the period, the average mental wellbeing of the group had improved by six points, three points better than those who’d been asked to do aerobic exercise instead.
The theory goes that baths helps to regulate circadian rhythms – which affect everything from your mood to your metabolism. Bath salts also have their own healing benefits. Grass & Co.’s EASE bath salts contain tea tree, eucalyptus and peppermint oils, while the CALM bath salts combine evening primrose, rosemary and marula. Both are mixed with pink Himalyan salt, an effective detoxifier and ideal for helping reduce stress.
There is also evidence that a hot bath can improve sleep quality, which in turn might help to reduce depression. Barrister Richard Shannon finds a bath goes a long way to getting a good night’s sleep.
“To be honest, I never have trouble actually falling asleep,” he explains, “but I do sleep better after a bath. The quality of my sleep is richer. Mine have to be very hot, with an open window. Any steam in the bathroom is too much steam in my book.”
Richard is also strict about leaving his phone in another room while taking a bath.
“It’s hard but I know it’s going to be for my own good in the end. There’s nothing to take the edge off a relaxing bath like an angry late night work email. Plus, it’s much easier to replace a book than a phone when I inevitably drop it in the water.”
Richard is doing things right, by all accounts. A study by Harvard researchers found that artificial light late in the evening affects your circadian rhythm, undoing all the good work of your bath. The same study also showed that people who looked at their phone before bed took hours longer to wake up properly the next day, compared to people who had read a book.
If reading doesn’t appeal, it might be time to think about a soundtrack. Thee are apps specifically for calming, playlists tailored for tuning out and podcasts for tuning in. Just be sure leave that phone somewhere you can’t reach it. Then lie back and prepare to zone out. This is your time.