Do Baths Lead to Better Sleep? We Tested the Theory With a Sleep Tracker

Do Baths Lead to Better Sleep? We Tested the Theory With a Sleep Tracker

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Brittney Morgan
May 31, 2017
(Image credit: Trinette Reed/Stocksy)

Lately, there have been some studies going around that seem to prove that taking a warm bath before bed can help you sleep better (although according to Time.com, 20-minute showers could possibly work too). The theory behind it is that taking a bath raises your body temperature, which then drops after you get out and dry off—that, in turn, can help induce and improve your sleep. As someone who struggles to sleep through the night, I wanted to put this theory to the test myself, to see if it could actually have an effect on me.

For a little background, I've been using a sleep tracker—Sense by Hello, which clips onto your pillow and connects to an app on your phone—for about a month and a half now with much success. But I have noticed some inconsistencies in the way it tracks my sleep: First, it often confuses me tossing and turning for waking up earlier than I do (it thinks I'm just laying in bed awake for an hour before I get out of bed when I'm actually asleep) so I have to manually plug in my actual wake time most mornings, and second, I tend to wake up a lot during the night and I've noticed that sometimes it misses those moments (and I can't add that data in manually). But aside from those issues, I've found that it's a pretty accurate way to measure my quality of sleep. On my higher sleep score days, I definitely feel more rested and have an easier time waking up, and on lower sleep score days I remember waking up quite a few times, hitting snooze a lot, and in general feeling more tired.

(Image credit: Brittney Morgan)

As you can see on my Sense sleep summary chart above, my average weekday sleep score is 78, and on weekends it's 77. Both of those fall in the yellow range, which is okay but not ideal. On average, I tend to wake up about 3 to 4 times per night, and it usually takes me around 20 minutes to fall asleep. I also usually get less than 2 hours of deep sleep per night, according to the app.

To test the bedtime bath theory, I decided to take a warm bath each night before bed for three days, without changing anything else about my routine. I wanted to do everything else as normal as possible so I could see how the baths really affected my life, so that meant continuing to play sleep sounds (Sense has sleep sounds, and I play brown noise every night to help drown out any weird noises) and going to bed and waking up whenever I normally would.

Night 1: This Must Be a Fluke

Soak Soundtrack: Little Mix (I had just gone through a breakup, so...)

I love taking baths when I really want to relax, but I'm not a regular bath-taker, so I was kind of excited (at least at first) at the prospect of being forced to take some me-time, you know...for science. In reality, I'd had a long day and had to come home after all of that and clean my bathtub, so, it wasn't as chill and glamorous as I had anticipated it being. Regardless, like always, soaking in a hot bath was relaxing and felt worth it, even if—as I suspected—this whole theory wound up not actually working.

You can imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning (before my alarm, even!) only to find that my sleep score was 86, the highest it had ever been. I kept looking at my sleep summary incredulously because I was so convinced that this wouldn't work and that my sleep score was fake. But the truth is, I woke up—before my alarm, even!—feeling well-rested and didn't remember waking up in the middle of the night, so I knew the number was accurate. I just wasn't quite convinced that it wasn't a total coincidence.

Night 2: Still Shocked, Less Skeptical

Soak Soundtrack: Carole King (Do I need a reason for this?)

On the second day of this experiment I worked from home, so my day was far less stressful and did not involve any running around—which meant that even just the idea of having to take a bath was way more appealing this time around. Plus, after seeing my sleep score and feeling so much disbelief, I was genuinely excited to see how Night 2 would go. Since I had to go into the office the next day (which meant waking up an hour earlier), I took my bath earlier than I did on Night 1. It took me longer to fall asleep than usual, but it didn't feel like I was struggling to fall asleep like I do some nights.

On days that I work from the office, I tend to hit snooze a few times, but I actually woke up before my alarm again. I immediately reached for my phone to check my sleep score and was completely stunned to see it hit 85. I had only ever hit 84 once, and that was on a Sunday night after I'd been away for the rest of the weekend (meaning I hadn't slept much, so I was exhausted). Hitting a score this high two nights in a row really started to convince me that baths were the answer, but I was still a little skeptical. Needless to say, I was already impatient for the results from Night 3.

Night 3: Science... Who Knew?

Soak Soundtrack: Jewel (I listened to "You Were Meant For Me" on loop because I was trying to learn it on guitar; don't judge me)

I will be honest and say I was not excited about taking a bath on Night 3. I mean, I knew it would be relaxing because how could it not be, but I had so much on my to-do list already that day that it felt less like a reward for getting through the day and more like one more thing I had to check off. I really wanted to know what the results would be, but I also kind of just wanted to skip it and go right to bed. I stayed up and got in the tub, though, because who am I to stand in the way of science?

When I woke up on the final day and saw my sleep score was tied with Night 1 at 86, I was sold. I also woke up before my alarm that day, but it was Friday and I had a long day ahead of me so I let myself drift off for a little while longer. I felt well rested and a little bit like I had just uncovered the secret to life. Taking baths before bed seems to work—at least, for me.

My sleep summaries from each night that I tested the bedtime bath theory. At a high of 86, my sleep scores during the test were almost 10 full points higher than my daily average.
(Image credit: Brittney Morgan)

My Takeaway: It Works, But I Won't Do it Daily

I am not a person who is good at sleep. I usually always get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep unless some sort of special circumstance arises that keeps me up or forces me out of bed early. But, despite getting the recommended full 8 hours, I almost never feel well-rested and I wake up so often throughout the night that I don't even know if half of those 8 hours really count. I have pretty good sleep-related habits: I try not to drink too much too late so I don't have to get up in the middle of the night, I never drink caffeine because of a sensitivity, and I follow a normal bedtime routine—but for some reason, I'm just not a sound, deep or restful sleeper. So, seeing the difference taking baths before bed made? Huge for me—I never get that much deep sleep, and waking up 2 or fewer times per night is a big difference in comparison to a typical night for me.

That said, it was a little stressful knowing that I had to make time to fit a bath in before bed, so I don't think it's practical (or water-conserving, for that matter) for me to do this every day. However, I do think that it's a great option that I will definitely incorporate into my life whenever I feel like I might struggle with unwinding and falling asleep. I'm not a daily hair-washer (my hair doesn't get greasy and when it does, dry shampoo is my best friend) so I could totally see night-time baths becoming a working replacement for my usual showers on the days I don't need to shampoo, whenever I feel like I need help in the snooze department.

All-in-all, my vote is: If you're having trouble sleeping, it's totally worth a try!

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