If you’re not getting enough sleep, it can have a serious impact on your stress levels, mental health, and even your immune system.
Luckily, a study of insomniacs revealed that soaking in hot water before bedtime leads to deeper, more restful, and more continuous sleep. Which means a daily dip in a hot tub can be a powerful weapon in your fight against insomnia. For many people it’s one of the leading hot tub health benefits.
Read on for a deep dive into why you might be struggling to sleep, how a hot tub can help, and what else you can be doing to sleep soundly every night.
Why insomnia is on the rise
If you’ve recently started having trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. The coronavirus pandemic sent worldwide stress levels sky high, causing an epidemic of what’s been dubbed ‘Covid-somnia’.
And while we’re coming out of the pandemic, people are still uncertain about what the future is going to look like and what “the new normal” is going to be.
But our society’s problem with insomnia predates Covid. In fact, a massive 31 per cent of UK adults said they had insomnia – and 48 per cent that they don’t get the right amount of sleep – in a 2017 study by Aviva.
Sleep coach Dave Gibson says our sleep is collateral damage of our modern lifestyles in our interview with him. “When we were cavepeople, what were we going to do other than sleep at night? There were no lightbulbs,” he explains. See our complete interview with Dave below:
Gibson compares that to our lives today, when we have “a 24/7 lifestyle where we can always be doing something.” Netflix automatically plays the next episode and all you need to do is refresh your social media feeds for instant access to more content – temptations that didn’t exist just a few short years ago.
Of course, these distractions aren’t going away any time soon. If you want to overcome your insomnia, you’ll have to change your relationship with sleep. And to do that, you need to understand what kind of insomnia you’re suffering from.
The different kinds of insomnia
Insomnia comes in many different forms and has many different causes.
Here’s everything you need to know to pinpoint which kind of insomnia you’re suffering with – and get on the path to overcoming it:
Sleep disorder or disordered sleep?
Gibson splits insomnia into two types: “sleep disorders and disordered sleep.”
He explains that sleep disorders are medical conditions that prevent you from being able to get to sleep or wake you up during the night, like restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. These kinds of conditions need clinical attention. If you think you’re suffering from one then your first port of call should be your GP.
However, most people’s insomnia is a symptom of what Gibson calls disordered sleep. This is the result of bad sleep habits, which people often fall into when their sleep schedule gets knocked off during a particularly stressful spell. This develops into insomnia when we start to get into bed expecting to not be able to sleep, so we don’t even try.
This starts a vicious cycle, Gibson explains: the less sleep you get, the more anxious it makes you; the more anxious you are, the less sleep you get.
Stress and anxiety are huge causes of insomnia.
During our interview with clinical hypnotherapist and sleep expert Alex Saxton, she explained that your sleep often gets disrupted if you’re going through something stressful like a house move, a family emergency, or a hectic time at work. This is because your brain gets flooded with so many stress hormones that your fight or flight instinct is triggered. This survival mechanism is very useful for getting out of dangerous situations. But, because your brain struggles to tell the difference between real and imagined threats, it’s often triggered by a build-up of everyday stresses, leaving us on high alert throughout the day. And when we’re so stressed that we feel in danger 24/7, it’s very bad news for our stress levels – and our ability to get to sleep.
Saxton explained that there are three kinds of stress-induced insomnia:
You struggle to get to sleep.
You get to sleep fine, but wake up multiple times throughout the night.
You get to sleep fine, but wake up in the early hours of the morning and can’t get back to sleep.
According to Saxton, you need to feel safe and calm to be able to go to sleep straight away and sleep through the night. Which means that no matter which type of stress-induced insomnia you’re suffering from, the solution is to reduce the amount of stress hormones in your body so your mind can recognise that it’s safe to sleep. See our complete interview with Alex below:
Five proven ways a hot tub can help you get a better night’s sleep
You might be surprised by the number of ways a soak in a hot tub can help reduce your stress levels and help you get a good night’s sleep.
Here’s a quick overview of how your home spa can help you with your insomnia:
It lowers your core body temperature
“The body uses two things to trigger sleep: absence of light and a decrease in temperature,” explains Gibson. “If you use a hot tub to push your core body temperature up before bed, once you get out you’ll get the decrease in temperature that’s exactly the signal the body needs to tell it it’s time to go to bed.”
This is particularly helpful if you struggle to get to sleep in the first place. Our sleep experts recommend a soak in your home spa around an hour and a half before bed to get the benefits of a falling core body temperature.
It unlocks the stress-busting benefits of hydrotherapy
Studies have shown that hydrotherapy can provide you with a psychological and emotional boost, making it a powerful way to stave off stress and improve the quality of your sleep.
“If you immerse yourself in water, your cortisol levels – your stress hormones – go down,” explains Saxton. “This makes you feel calmer and activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is conducive to sleep.”
It gives you a sleep-inducing massage
“If you get into bed at night and you’ve got stiff muscles from all the stress you’ve accrued over the day, that’s not going to be conducive to a good night’s sleep at all,” explains Saxton. “A hot tub’s jets loosen those muscles up, which will mean when you do go to bed at night they’ll be a lot looser – which will send a signal to your mind that it’s safe to sleep.”
That’s not all, either. Saxton adds: “When you get a massage, melatonin is released in your body. And melatonin is our sleepy hormone – it comes out when it’s bedtime and makes us feel drowsy. If you’re getting that released prior to bed, sleep is going to come quicker.”
It relieves pain
“If you have inflammation in your muscles, that pain is really not helpful for sleep,” says Saxton. “It can make it painful for you to get into your favourite position and wake you up in the night. But a hot tub can reduce inflammation in your muscles and reduce any pain that’s there at the time.”
It helps you tap into mindfulness
Saxton also recommends using the time you soak in your home spa as an opportunity to tap into the sleep-boosting benefits of mindfulness. She suggests focusing on the physical sensations while you sit in your spa as a great way to get the benefits of mindfulness without having to get the meditation cushion out every day.
“Whenever I go to the spa, I always go to the hydrotherapy pool. I feel the jets against my body and focus my attention on the feeling of the pressure and the pleasure points,” she explains. “When you focus your attention on a feeling like this, it’s very easy to practice mindfulness and to let your worries fade away. And the less time you spend engaging in your worries, the better your sleep will tend to be.”
What else you can be doing to get a better night’s sleep
Hopping in your hot tub around an hour and a half before bed is a proven way to get a better night’s sleep. But there are plenty of other things you can be doing each day to overcome your insomnia outside of the spa, as well. Here are a few recommendations from the sleep experts we recently interviewed:
Don’t use your phone in bed
“I can guarantee that if you don’t use your phone in bed, you’ll get a better night’s sleep,” says Gibson. “It’s not just the blue light that the screen emits – it’s way too much stimulation before you try to go to sleep.”
Sitting in bed scrolling through social media is just about the worst thing you can do before you try and drift off to sleep. Implement a strict “no phone in bed” policy for the best chances of overcoming insomnia.
Avoid caffeine after lunch
“Caffeine has a half life of six hours,” explains Gibson. “That means if you drink a cup of coffee at four in the afternoon, you’ll still have half a cup in your system at ten at night.”
Cutting out caffeine after lunch is a simple way to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep – especially if you struggle to drift off at night. Stick to herbal teas in the afternoon to help stave off insomnia.
Avoid anything that revs you up
Alex Saxton recommends not doing anything vigorous after your evening dip in your home spa. “Don’t leave the hot tub and then hop on your peloton,” she told us. “That will raise your core body temperature, undoing all the good work of your evening hot tub.”
“If you consider alcohol your way to relax before bed, consider an evening dip in your hot tub a replacement,” recommends Saxton. “You’re getting the relaxation from that, but it’s boosting your sleep, not a detriment to it.”
Bin your sleep tracker
Saxton also had a bit of counterintuitive advice for us: bin your sleep tracker. She’s actually had an influx of patients whose sleep problems began when they got the sleep tracker and started overthinking their sleep, which they didn’t have a problem with before.
These patients often tell her they wake up feeling rested. Then they look at their sleep tracker, and if it wasn’t the perfect eight hours, they’re unhappy with that – even though they feel great if they listen to their body. This puts far too much pressure on sleep, Saxton explains, and actually makes it harder to get a good night’s rest.
Do things that make you feel good
“Do activities that make you feel good like stroking a pet, hugging a loved one, or doing something kind for somebody,” recommends Saxton. “Doing things that make you feel good are going to release oxytocin and serotonin in your brain, which will make you feel calm and safe instead of stressed and anxious. This puts you in the right mindset for sleep.”
Get sunshine first thing in the morning
“Getting sunlight first thing in the morning is important, as it helps set our circadian rhythm,” says Gibson. A short morning walk or a coffee in the garden can help set you up for a good night’s sleep before the day has even properly begun.
Stick to a routine
“Your brain likes routines, so finding a good routine and sticking to it will help you get regular sleep,” says Gibson.
If you can’t keep the same bedtime every night, he recommends you wake up at the same time every morning and learn to nap around the siesta period to make up for lost sleep – something we’ve been hardwired to do since we were cavepeople.
While social plans are always going to throw your sleep schedule off every now and then, Gibson recommends you don’t make this a habit. “If you go on holiday to a country that’s in a timezone four hours ahead of ours, you’ll need to eat at a different time and sleep at different times,” he explains. “If you go to bed at 10pm on the weekdays and 2am on weekends, that’s the same thing. You’ve created something called social jetlag, and your body hates it.”
So, try to restrict late nights to when you’ve got social plans and stick to your weekday bedtime on quiet Saturdays in. When you do have a late one, try and wake up at your regular time then catch up on sleep with a siesta.
Prime your mind for sleep
“The brain expects sleep when it goes into a bedroom that’s set up for sleep,” says Gibson. To prime your mind for sleep, he recommends you make your bedroom cool, dark and quiet at night – like a cave.
So your brain associates your bedroom with sleep, he recommends only using it “for sleep and having a cuddle.”
And if you’re stuck using your bedroom as a home office because you’re working from home after the pandemic, Gibson suggests “changing your bedsheets and pillows at night to put the space into ‘night mode’.”
Take small steps
“The difference between an insomniac and someone who doesn’t get enough sleep,” says Gibson, “is that an insomniac is panicking about how little sleep they’re getting. So, part of the process is to get into a regular sleep pattern and to go from there.”
But this isn’t going to be an overnight fix. “You won’t find someone going from five hours to eight hours sleep overnight,” he says. “But you can build back up.”
Don’t get obsessed
Last but not least, Saxton warns not to get obsessed about maintaining the perfect sleep schedule. She had a client who’s bedtime routine was four hours long – “and if she forgot to listen to ocean sounds in the bath, she wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”
“Following common sense recommendations like avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and alcohol is great,” she says. “But don’t put too much pressure on the idea that a bedtime routine is going to fix all your problems. The more elaborate your bedtime routine, the more pressure you’re putting on yourself for it to work, which can often make sleep harder.”
So, enjoy an evening soak in your hot tub and stick to the advice we’ve laid out in this article. But always remember that your sleep doesn’t depend on you ticking these boxes – doing so will just help tip the odds of a good night’s sleep in your favour.
Should you buy a hot tub if you’re suffering from insomnia?
We asked the sleep experts we interviewed whether they’d recommend buying a hot tub to someone suffering with insomnia and this is what they had to say:
“I’m always recommending my clients do relaxing activities – hot baths, massage, mindfulness – to move their body into the parasympathetic nervous system to help with their sleep,” says Saxton. “But most of them are busy people who haven’t got time to do all those things. They might have half an hour in their day, and that is it. So, the fact a hot tub combines all those activities in one is perfect for a busy person to fit in all those things that are going to be helpful for their sleep.”
“Soaking in a hot tub is something that is definitely going to relax you,” says Gibson. “And it’s a great way of making sure that you’re putting something in place that you can then use as part of a regular routine. If it’s there, it’s more convenient – and we’re creatures of convenience. We’re all time poor, so having a hot tub ‘on tap’ would be ideal. And it’s a lovely way to spend some time in the evening before bed.”
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I am the Editor-in-Chief at WhatSpa? Media Group and have been actively involved in the hot tub and swim spa industry for over 20 years. I fell in love with hot tubbing in 2002 and since then have dedicated my career to helping millions of hot tub buyers to make more informed choices when navigating their buying journey.