By Abigail Cuffey and Judy Kirkwood
You already knew a bath helps you unwind. Now there's proof: Dr. Becker recently studied the effect immersion in varying temperatures of water -- cool, neutral, and warm -- has on healthy adults. After about 24 minutes, the central nervous system patterns of the subjects in warm water were essentially identical to those of people who are relaxed and focused, says Dr. Becker. "Other studies have found that it decreases depression and anxiety," he adds. The way it works is a matter of speculation. It may be that buoyancy plays a role, or that warm water gives us the same sensation we experienced while floating in the womb.
Whatever the reason, a relaxing bath -- even just a footbath -- can also improve your sleep, which may in turn lead to more energy and less stress. A 1999 study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that women who took either a 20-minute bath or soaked their legs (up to their knees) in hot water for 30 minutes were able to fall asleep more quickly and had better-quality sleep compared with those who did neither. "I wish women would stop thinking of baths as a luxury and instead make them an essential part of their lifestyle to alleviate stress and reenergize," says Kathleen Hall, PhD, founder and CEO of the Stress Institute, in Atlanta.
Unable to squeeze in a good soak? Hall suggests simply running warm water over your wrists for 30 seconds for instant relaxation at any point during the day.