If you’re one of those people who believe your best ideas come to you in the shower – you’re not alone. In fact, a recent study revealed that 72% of respondents believed that Shower Time was prime Thinking Time. That may seem counterintuitive, given that you’re more focussed on soaping up that hard-to-reach spot under your shoulders than working out strategy for your critical project, but science backs you up. Taking a shower can help you break through a thinking rut, get back on track when you’re unmotivated, and get a good night’s sleep. And while you might have known all this intuitively, isn’t it nice when science agrees?
Showering helps you solve difficult problems
When you’re actively chewing on a problem, you’re engaging your conscious mind, which excels at logical thinking and problem-solving. Your prefrontal cortex in particular (the bit of your brain responsible for decision-making) likes clear, rational processes. And while this is great for keeping you behaving like a generally sane and responsible adult, it’s not great for when you need an Ah-Ha! moment that’s pure inspiration and creativity.
On the other hand, when you’re engaged in some mindless, repetitive activity, like soaping up your loofah, your conscious mind takes a break. This allows your unconscious mind or default mode network (the part of your brain that’s had the benefit of hours of quiet playtime in the background) to jump in with some truly innovative ideas. In other words, without the prefrontal cortex around to act as the nanny, your brain lets loose and really has some fun. And it’s this fun that often produces the best and most creative solutions.
Showering gives you a bout of fresh energy
When you’re in the shower, chances are you’re alone, warm, and comfortable. Your brain likes the warm solitude, and takes the opportunity to produce dopamine – the go-getter hormone. Dopamine is fueled by rewards (like successfully completing a task), so it gives you a boost of motivation. That’s why when your energy is low, you often find that a bracing shower perks you right up, and helps you get back to work.
The warm water also helps your muscles relax, especially your shoulders that have been hunched up at a desk or over a screen all day. The annoying crick in your neck that was distracting you loosens, and your body overall feels lighter and fresher. Additionally, the steam created by your shower helps to unblock your nasal passages, which might have been causing that mild headache you were suffering from.
Showering helps you regulate your circadian rhythms
You might have heard of the circadian rhythm, the mysterious body clock inside us which wants us to sleep when it’s dark, and be alert when it’s daytime. Unfortunately, with the plethora of electronic devices emitting blue light at us from every direction, our body clocks become terribly confused, and literally cannot tell day from night. With a few clever tricks, your shower can help you reset, with morning showers preparing you for the day, and evening showers relaxing you for bedtime.
In the morning, you want to take a slightly colder shower, to help you wake up. The contrast after your warm bed is invigorating, and helps keep you awake. The cooler external environment also jolts your internal body temperature to warm itself up and get the body going. For a more extreme (though apparently highly effective) wake-up, try the Cold-Hot-Cold cycle. After your usual cleaning routine, turn the water as cold as you can stand for 30 seconds. Follow this with 30 seconds of water that’s as hot as you can stand. Finally, finish off with another 30 seconds of cold. This method mimics the effects of hydrotherapy, and is supposed to supercharge your mornings.
Conversely, when you want to get a good night’s sleep, try a hotter shower in the evening. Your body temperature is artificially raised by the hot water, so when you step out of the shower, it drops immediately. Lower body temperature is a prelude for your body to enter the relaxed sleep state, so a hot shower within 2 hours of your bedtime will help you nod off.
While some people regard the shower as nothing more than a mundane necessity, now you know that it’s an unconventional and highly effective productivity tool. So, whether you’re preparing for the day ahead, or looking forward to a blissful night’s rest, look no further than your own bathroom.