water therapy and sleepWater therapy and sleep: Overview

Water therapy (hydrotherapy) can provide a vital and natural key to breaking the stress cycle of everyday modern life. We are prone to stress related illnesses which can cause a wide range of physical and psychological problems in today’s hectic world. Water therapy can help with high blood pressure, headaches, digestive complaints, insomnia, depression, anxiety attacks, the list is endless. Unfortunately stress not only affects the mind but more importantly our immune system.

Taking a warm bath (not too hot!) about 1-2 hours before bedtime is a traditional practice to relax our body and mind and give ourselves a nice treat. Bathing calms the body, relaxes muscles and massages the dermal layers. Warm water increases circulation, decreases stress and slows down internal organ activity (like heart rate). A hot bath has a soothing effect on the body and mind and calms our nervous tension.

Most importantly, it prepares the body (and mind) to sleep. However, it’s crucial to allow enough time to cool down our body temperature after a bath (alternatively you can take a cool shower).

The daily sleep/wake cycle is linked to the daily body temperature cycle. For this reason, a hot bath which raises the core body temperature has been found to improve the duration and quality of sleep. A 30-minute soak in a bath of 40 degrees C which raises the core body temperature by one degree is suitable for this purpose. Time should be limited to about 10-15 minutes at the hotter levels. Time at bath can be increases for lower temperatures.

Hydrotherapy (medical term) involves the use of water for pain relief and treatment. The term encompasses a broad range of approaches and therapeutic methods that take advantage of the physical properties of water, such as temperature and pressure, for therapeutic purposes, to stimulate blood circulation and treat the symptoms of certain diseases.

Various forms of water therapy have been recorded in ancient Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman civilizations. Egyptian royalty bathed with essential oils and flowers, while Romans had communal public baths for their citizens. Iranians classified spa waters according to effect of spa water in treatment of illness. Hippocrates prescribed bathing in spring water for sickness. Other cultures noted for a long history of hydrotherapy include China and Japan, this latter being centred primarily around Japanese hot springs, or (onsen).

Benefits of water therapy for sleep

  • Dramatically increasing the elimination of waste, thus assisting detoxification
  • Loosening tense, tight muscles and encouraging relaxation
  • Increasing the metabolic rate and digestion activity
  • Hydrating the cells, improving skin and muscle tone
  • Boosting the immune system, allowing it to function more efficiently
  • Improving the function of the internal organs by stimulating their blood supply

What happens during water therapy?

  • After 5 minutes – your blood pressure and pulse rates start to drop.
  • After 10 minutes – your circulation improves in your hands and feet making them warmer.
  • After 15 minutes – your muscles will relax becoming more receptive to passive exercise, fibrous tissue becomes more pliable and responsive to stretching encouraging the release of lactic acid and other toxins from your system.
  • After 20 minutes – your aches and pains will experience a temporary decrease in severity.

What happens after more treatments?

  • After 3 treatments – your immune system will be improved.
  • After 5 treatments – tension, emotional and physical pain will noticeably be reduced.
  • After 10 treatments – your pain relief will be longer lasting, you’ll experience a greater sense of well-being.
  • After 20 treatments – you will have a heightened tolerance to disease and depression, your skin will be clearer and glow with health and your muscle tone and mobility will improve.

Methods and techniques

Water therapy involves a range of methods and techniques, many of which use water as a medium to facilitate thermoregulatory reactions for therapeutic benefit. Here is a bit more information:

  • Balneotherapy is the treatment of disease by bathing, usually practiced at spas. Balneotherapy may involve hot or cold water, massage through moving water, relaxation or stimulation. Many mineral waters at spas are rich in particular minerals (silica, sulfur, selenium,  radium) which can be absorbed through the skin
  • Hot mineral springs are naturally occurring springs that produce water containing minerals that come from deep within the earth’s surface. Many of these natural hot spring waters are rich in sulphur, sulphate and/or other minerals. These minerals assist in soothing nerves. Furthermore, magnesium and calcium are frequent minerals in hot springs. Both have been shown in many studies to relax muscles and ease tension.
  • The Finnish sauna is a substantial part of Finnish culture. There are five million inhabitants and over two million saunas in Finland – an average of one per household. For Finnish people the sauna is a place to relax with friends and family, and a place for physical and mental relaxation as well. Finns think of saunas not as a luxury, but as a necessity. Do not take sauna too late in the evening if you wish to improve sleep.
  • The Turkish sauna (hammam); a person taking a Turkish bath first relaxes in a room (known as the warm room) that is heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air, allowing the bather to perspire freely. Bathers may then move to an even hotter room (known as the hot room) before splashing themselves with cold water. After performing a full body wash and receiving a massage, bathers finally retire to the cooling-room for a period of relaxation. Do not take a steam bath too late in the evening in case you wish to induce sleep.
  • Thalassotherapy (from the Greek word thalassa, meaning “sea”) is the medical use of seawater as a form of therapy. It is based on the systematic use of seawater, sea products, and shore climate. The therapy is applied in various forms, as either showers of warmed seawater, application of marine mud or of algae paste, or the inhalation of sea fog.
  • Epson salt bath is a good solution for those without a nearby hot natural springs. A simple bath can be turned to therapeutic waters (increase magnesium and sulphur minerals) by adding Epson salts to our bath water. Magnesium relaxes nerves and muscles and sulphur minerals reduce pain and increase healing process.

 NOTE: Both Finnish and Turkish saunas are particularly helpful for sleep apnea sufferers as they help to clear congestion and stimulate the lymphatic system.

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