I have been taking a cold shower every day for a few years. At first I took a warm shower first. I then ended with cold water. Since last summer I shower completely cold. So no more hot water in advance.
A lot of you will find this quite spartan. Others may even think I’m a bit crazy. No way in the world they would try this too. Don’t get me wrong: everyone is free to do whatever they want. In this blog, however, I would like to make a modest plea for cold training.
This website is about restless legs. I therefore also want to specifically address the question whether a cold shower helps with RLS. At the same time, I will discuss other benefits of cold training. In my experience, those benefits are quite significant.
A while ago I wrote about using a cooling mat at night. You put such a mat in your bed and your legs on it. The body weight activates a gel in the cooling mat. The temperature of the mat will be a few degrees lower than your body temperature. If you get warm legs and feet at night because of the RLS, such a cold surface is of course very pleasant. You will then fall asleep more easily.
You could say that a cooling mat works as a kind of anesthetic. Over-stimulation in the legs from RLS takes the form of heat and almost becomes an inflammatory response. The cold neutralizes this. At least for a while. I already talked about overstimulation in my blog about MUS (or SOLK).
When you take a cold shower, a lot of things happen in your body. First there is a kind of shock reaction. For a few seconds you feel a strong cold go through your body. In my opinion, this only lasts shortly. After that, strangely enough it is not bad at all to stand under the cold water jet. Admittedly, it’s still not nice and warm. However, it may be somewhat similar to the numbing effect you feel when using a cooling mat. A more neutral temperature.
After a few years of cold showering, I think I can say that I am experienced in cold training. It is not the most extreme form, such as laying in an ice bath or swimming in natural water in winter. However, it is a way to provide the body with cold on a daily basis, with all the associated benefits. With the more extreme forms of cold training, you soon end up with the Wim Hof Method. The question here is of course whether extreme is also better.
Wim Hof Method (WHM)
Recently I read the latest book by “Iceman” Wim Hof. He has been a well-known figure in the Netherlands but also internationally for years now. He is tireless in his advocacy of the benefits of cold training. I thought it was funny to read that he gained his first experiences with cold water by regularly swimming in the water of a city park in Amsterdam. That city park is not that far from where I live!
I also heard about Wim Hof and his training courses from people in my vicinity. For example, someone dear to me told me that his cousin had attended several sessions with Wim, at home and abroad. A friend of his also knew Wim Hof personally and had seen him “live”. A few years ago I saw a yoga teacher who I followed through a newsletter that she had become a fan of the Wim Hof Method. After a while she started giving cold training herself, in combination with her yoga workshops.
When you talk about the Wim Hof Method, you are automatically talking about a breathing technique, or Wim Hof Breathing. As far as you can make a claim on a breathing instruction. However, Wim Hof also has to make a living, so he has recorded the techniques he uses in his own brand name. He sees this way of breathing as a prerequisite for his cold training. In his view, this initiates certain physical processes. That way, he says, you are better able to withstand extreme forms of cold.
Advantages of cold training
If you may believe Wim Hof, cold training has many advantages. On its official website, some of them are mentioned, such as:
- More energy
- Improved sleep
- Lower stress levels
- Greater cold tolerance
- Faster recovery
- Stonger immune system
Other potential benefits include a faster metabolism and less inflammation. According to Wim Hof, his training also helps against stress, depression, high blood pressure, asthma, MS, fibromyalgia, COPD, migraine and arthritis.
Less inflammation and a stronger immune system were the motivation for me to start taking cold showers about five years ago. However, I read not long ago that cold training also improves dopamine production. As you may already know, dopamine is important for RLS. Restless legs are probably related to reduced production of this neurotransmitter. If you can let your body produce more dopamine in a natural way, that only seems beneficial.
The increased production of dopamine by the Wim Hof Method is primarily related to the production of another neurotransmitter, namely endorphins. These endorphins in turn causes a greater release of dopamine. I already knew that the body produces endorphins when you exercise, just like it does with yoga and meditation. I did not know that this also happens during exposure to cold.
Don’t overdo it
As with many things, it is better not to overdo it. Many people become enthusiastic when they are introduced to Wim Hof’s method. There are undeniable advantages to cold training and the enthusiasm of Wim Hof is contagious.
Personally, I take all health claims with a grain of salt though. This is not because of the person Wim Hof. I admire his enormous dedication and enthusiasm. For me it is an attitude that I always take towards things that are being held up to me. Because no matter how you look upon it, the Wim Hof Method is also ‘business’. His organization consists of people who earn their living with it. In such a case, I think a healthy doubt is always in order.
I choose not to practice the extreme forms of cold training. No ice bath for me and no winter swimming in natural water. I stick to a daily cold shower. I don’t do the Wim Hof Breathing either. During my cold shower I do breathe consciously and more intensely.
From yoga I know similar forms of breathing. I know that Wim Hof got the inspiration for his technique from Tibetan breathing techniques. As a yoga teacher I am aware that the used technique is a pretty intense way of breathing. It is not without dangers without expert guidance and careful construction.
Another woman who has worked as a coach for years also told me about her experiences. This woman, like the aforementioned yoga teacher, fell under the spell of Wim Hof’s cold training. She started taking courses with him and at one point used his techniques for her own courses.
However, she found out that it was better for her to choose a slightly less extreme form of cold training. In a personal email exchange she informed me that she had Raynaud’s disease. In this condition, the body reacts strongly to cold in the form of inflammatory reactions.
It was actually not good for her to take ice baths. Her body could not take it. The complaints of Raynaud’s disease even got worse. This did not mean that she was against cold training from then on. On the contrary. However, she urged people to always listen carefully to their bodies.
The story of Raynaud’s disease does not seem to be directly related to restless legs. In my opinion there is a clear link though. That link is that it is always wise to listen carefully to your body, no matter what anyone else says or claims.
When it comes to taking a cold shower and other forms of cold training, I really think it is worth investigating for yourself if it is right for you. A strong argument for this seems to me to be the release of dopamine when you expose your body to cold. Another argument is strengthening your immune system. This is not necessarily only beneficial for people with troubled legs. In case of chronic bad sleep, I think, you can certainly use an extra helping hand with regard to your health.
You could start with a cold shower. My advice is to build this up very gradually. For example, start with cold water on your feet and hands first, then on your legs and arms. Continue in this way gradually until you can keep your whole body under the cold water jet. You can experiment with the time of day, such as in the morning or in the evening before going to sleep. Then try it for a period at the same, fixed time. Only then draw your conclusions.