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“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” (Frank Sinatra)
I have a confession to make: I hate getting up in the morning. I know people who are up at first light, cheery and optimistic about the new day, immediately ready to vomit sunshine on anyone who is around. I am not one of them. I wake up near-comatose, groggy, annoyed, and longing for nothing more than a few more blissful unconscious hours between the sheets. Recently, however, I discovered a cure for this, and this has vastly reduced the duration, if not intensity, of my morning-coma: cold showers.
Nothing sheds that morning gloom faster than a blast of icy-cold water. A bit of research on the topic revealed that actually, the benefits may be more profound than not wanting to punch every unreasonably chipper morning person you run into before 9 am. Based on the hypothesis that our modern lifestyle does not provide the physical stimulus that evolution built us for, Nikolai Shevchuk treated a (non-statistically significant) group suffering from symptoms of depression with 2-3 minute cold showers (20° C) and found the therapy was effective at relieving many symptoms of depression.1 Mind you, I suspect that their mood may have perked up simply because they were happy the experiment was over.
Laboring under the same hypothesis, Werner Siems has also studied year-round swimmers extensively. In a previous study, he found that thanks to their regular short-term exposure to cold, they were 40% less likely to get upper-respiratory tract infections than regular folk.2 In a subsequent study, he also found that the year-round swimmers were better adapted to so-called oxidative stress than their control group, who engaged in other forms of exercise. This means the swimmers’ bodies were better adapted to fight the natural decay caused by reactive oxygen, which could lead to better defense against a variety of diseases.3
So, here’s your quick how-to guide to ditching the morning-gloom:
- Tomorrow morning, start off by taking a regular, warm shower as the heat will help open up your pores.
- At the point where you would normally finish, take a deep breath and turn the temperature knob to a noticeably cool level, then another few notches till it’s downright cold. If you’re not gasping, it’s not cold enough.
- Spend 1-2 minutes under the cold water flow, making sure your head gets its share as well. You’ll be surprised how quickly you get used to it and stop flailing your arms around spastically.
- Gradually, either through the course of the first cold shower or at the latest the next day, turn the temperature-knob to the coldest possible level. The faster you max it out, the less incremental pain you will need to suffer.
- Repeat the exercise the following morning and continue to do so every day. Personally, after my regular shower I like to go directly to the coldest setting available. At first the logic was to get it over with quickly, but now I have become so used to the cold it is more to save time.
Good luck! And remember, there’s no shame in screaming like a little girl!
1) Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Shevchuk, N, 2008
2) Winter-swimming—an extreme form of body hardening, Brenke R, 1990
3) Improved antioxidative protection in winter swimmers, W.G. Siems et al, 1999