Can a Cold Shower Every Morning Make You Superhuman?
I took a cold shower every morning for a week and tracked its surprising effects
I’ve always disliked cold showers. But a few weeks ago, I decided to change my point of view and take it on as a challenge.
I’ve been looking into getting out of my comfort zone more and more. I had already tried waking up at 5 a.m. for a week. I didn’t think I’d make it, and I did. I had also ran 5km a day for a week. It was hard but less so than I thought it would be. These were new challenges for me, but nothing extremely innovative. I’ve always been an early riser, and I used to be a regular runner, I even ran a marathon.
This new cold shower experiment was something completely new, and something I dreaded. Yet, I had read about the health benefits. I also knew it was a good way to kick start the day with a slap in the face, literally. I wanted to feel that. I wanted to see the effects it would have on my mornings. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone a little bit more. So I decided to take a cold shower, every morning, for a week.
I first clarified the rules around this challenge:
- Ice cold shower only. I was to never use the hot water in the shower for a week, no matter what. I would turn the knob of the shower tap all the way to the coldest and wait to make sure the water was as cold as possible. At the end of the challenge, I actually measured the temperature of the water. More on this later.
- No transition. There was only one way towards the cold shower: straight to it. No transition from hot to warm to cold, to ice-cold. Only ice-cold, and jumping right in.
- Shower before 9 a.m. I wake up at 6 a.m. during the week, but I use the time until around 7:45 to work on my blog, and I didn’t want to change that. It’s my most productive time of the day. Unlike my two previous challenges, I decided to have a flexible schedule for this one. I could shower whenever I wanted, but no later than 9 a.m., when I start working on my 9–5 job (remote due to COVID).
- Minimum two minutes. I usually shower pretty fast anyway. But it’s a lot easier to make it as fast as possible when the water is ice-cold because you don’t want to be in there. To qualify as a shower, my time under the water had to be at least two minutes.
- The challenge was effective from Monday to Friday, a normal workweek.
Accountability can be a key factor in challenges that aren’t enjoyable for me. For the 5 a.m. wake up challenge, I asked my accountability buddy for help, to make sure I didn’t skip a day. For the running challenge, I didn’t feel like I needed him, because getting out the door and running felt a lot easier. For this cold shower challenge, I did let him know that I was doing it, but he decided to not follow along. I was ok with that and decided to pursue it without external accountability.
The Routine Around the Challenge
I didn’t want this experiment to interfere with my usual morning routine, because it is my most productive time of the day. I decided to take my shower after spending one to two hours working on my blog. If my shower was going to affect my productivity in any way, it was going to be for my 9–5, not my blog. Here is the routine I followed for this challenge:
- 6:00 → Wake up, get out of bed, turn the water kettle on.
- 6:05 - 6:20 → Go out on the terrace, stretch for ten minutes. Then make coffee, a little something to eat, and get to work.
- 6:20 - 7:45 → Quick journaling, then write for the blog.
- 7:45 - 8:00 → More coffee, breakfast
- 8:00 - 8:15 → Ice-cold shower, get dressed
- 8:15 - 8:20 → Quick journaling for the shower experiment
- 8:20 - 8:30 → Start getting to work for my 9–5 (remote work, no more office)
The main difference with my usual routine was that I now had two quick journaling sessions in the morning instead of one. The first one, at 6:20, is right before getting to work on the blog. I look at my priorities for the day, make sure I understand them. Then I write down dreams and thoughts from the night before. I log my sleep quality score, my wake up time, and then I get to work.
The second journaling, at 8:15, was strictly for this experiment. I logged my “after shower feeling score” on a scale from one to five. I also wrote down the shower duration, and any notes I had on the experience.
The Day-by-Day Breakdown
This is exactly what I wrote down in my journal after my first-ever voluntary morning ice-cold shower, on Monday.
- “Holy crap this was a lot colder than I thought.”
- “The hardest part is always the chest, I notice that when I go swim in the sea too.”
- “That was super cold like, I almost panicked. But then it’s like: Oh ok, it’s just cold water.”
- “My muscles feel tense now, especially my calves.”
- “I do have to admit it’s only the first day and it does feel amazing afterward already. So fresh, so energised.”
- After shower score: 5/5
- Shower duration: 2:00
I couldn’t believe I had never taken a cold shower before, other than when I was forced to. Back in high school, I would sometimes take a somewhat “not warm” shower after the gym, but it wasn’t really cold either. I remember it feeling nice.
I couldn’t believe I had never done this before because I felt so out of my comfort zone the first few seconds that I wish I had tried something like this before. After a few minutes, you realise it’s not that hard, and you feel stupid to have had such high standards of comfort for this whole time. More on this in the learnings section, further down.
Here is my journal log after Tuesday’s shower:
- “My body already feels less traumatised afterward.”
- “This water is still super cold though, I’ll have to check how cold it is.”
- “I stayed longer in the shower to get used to it a bit more.”
- “It felt easier than yesterday, and again it feels amazing afterward.”
- After shower score: 5/5, even if sleep was bad
- Shower duration: 2:30
I slept really badly on the night from Monday to Tuesday. When I woke up that morning, I thought to myself: “Not only am I waking up at 6 a.m. to work early, now I have to take an ice-cold shower as well.” I felt like staying in bed, but I had to send my watch picture to my accountability buddy before 6:10 a.m. I also had to get to work, and face the reality of my own situation: I was going to have to take that cold shower no matter what.
I always end up waking up mentally and being alert thanks to my morning routine, because I’m a morning person. By the time I’ve stretched, done 20 pushups and 20 jumping jacks, I’m already a lot more “aware.” After the first coffee cup and the first few words typed on my laptop, my brain is fired up. With the cold shower, it got even better, like a second kick after the first work session.
Even though I slept badly that night, I truly felt amazing after the shower, and ready to take on some more work. At first, I thought it was a placebo, that my energy was going to die down again soon after. But it didn’t happen. I did get a little slower as usual in the afternoon, but I powered through my whole morning, in part thanks to the extra energy I got from the cold shower.
After shower log:
- “The easiest day to get in so far.”
- “It feels less cold too, it feels like I’m getting used to this.”
- “The nice thing about this is that the bathroom is not steamy afterward, so you can actually brush your teeth using the mirror right away.”
- After shower score: 5/5
- Shower duration: 2:45
I didn’t know if the weather was warmer that night and the water pipes didn’t get as cold, or if I was actually getting used to this. But one thing was for sure: it wasn’t as hard to go through the whole thing on Wednesday. And again, it felt as great afterward as the other days.
- “Had to wash my hair, so I stayed in longer.”
- “It’s actually really fine after four minutes in.”
- “I didn’t think it would become so easy so quick.”
- After score shower: 5/5, not exaggerating
- Shower duration: 5:10
On Thursday, I hadn’t washed my hair since the beginning of the week, so it had to be done. I have rather long hair, and although I would fully splash my hair and scrub it a little, I hadn’t used shampoo yet, because it meant I had to spend more time in the shower. Two minutes or so felt great, and I kind of wanted to leave it at that. But I knew it couldn’t last. I had to wash my hair at least once.
Cold water feels ice cold on the face and the skull in general. But the more I splashed my face to rinse the shampoo, and the longer I stayed, the less cold it felt. Eventually, I realised that right around the four-minute mark (I had a clock to check the time), it became fine.
It still wasn’t as comfortable as a hot shower of course, but it was fine. I could just stay in there. On that day, I even stayed one minute extra, to take it all in. I just stood in the shower, and focused on how I was feeling. It was great.
- “I ate breakfast after, so it felt colder and harder to stay in. My ears were buzzing a little.”
- “I’m really cold right now, need food and a coffee.”
- “Again felt great, will do more of this in the future.”
- After shower score: 4/5
- Shower duration: 3:10
We had guests over on Friday, and for logistical reasons, I had to shower earlier than usual, after my morning work but before my breakfast. It made a major difference in the shower, and it didn’t feel as nice.
I remember going swimming in the sea as a kid. If I hadn’t had something to eat first, I couldn’t stay in the water long and would feel a lot more tired afterward. The body needs calories to fight the cold. The same thing happened to me in the shower on that Friday.
Because of that little setback, Friday was the only day where my after shower score was below 5/5. That was one of the learnings I got from this week, but not the only one. In the next section, we’ll take a look at everything I learned.
It does feel amazing
The biggest learning by far was how amazing a cold morning shower feels. I didn’t expect it to feel that great, and I also couldn’t believe I hadn’t done more of this before.
The feeling when you get out of the shower is so nice. Because I did this challenge during autumn and it does get cold pretty fast where I live (up north), I had to make sure I put on warm clothes right after. Long wet hair also doesn’t help to get warmed up, but it’s manageable.
Get dry, put on some fresh clothes, have one more cup of coffee, and go about your day. For me, that is the best follow-up to the cold shower, and the most productive.
The best cure for bad mornings
This challenge also turned out to be the best cure for a bad night’s sleep I have ever tried. You’re so focused on the unease in the shower, on how uncomfortable this is, that it shakes off your morning grumpiness. Your body gets awakened, your mind cleared. When you step out of the shower, the little bit of trouble you had already accumulated from bad sleep is gone.
Just jump in
I feel a bit stupid when I say this is one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done because it makes my life sound pretty boring. The truth is, I’ve done other uncomfortable things in my life, but the big difference here was consistency. I had to take that dreaded cold shower every day. It wasn’t a one-time dare, like bungee-jumping, or skydiving.
I was surprised at how much I got stressed about the cold shower, especially the first day. I started overthinking it 30 minutes ahead of time. “I shouldn’t do this, this is ridiculous. Why am I doing this? This is so stupid. How cold is it going to be? I should at least start with warm water”. I started negotiating the terms of the agreement with myself, and that’s not good. That’s when you know you have to jump in.
Yet even once I was butt naked, standing on the mat in front of the shower, with the cold water already running and waiting for me, I would wait a bit. I was trying to anticipate how cold it was going to be. I’d do a few stretches, look at myself in the mirror, double-check that the dry towel was ready on the edge of the sink, anything I could think of to avoid getting in. Eventually, I pressed start on the timer and went in.
Then the cold water hit me. My breathing started being irregular. All my muscles tensed up. This thing was way colder than I thought. I went from having my back turned to the shower to facing it. When the water hit my chest, it got worse. When it hit my face, it felt even worse. Then after about 90 seconds or so, I realised it wasn’t that bad, and I started calming down.
Then the next day, I’d do it all over again.
Those of us who have plenty of food, nice clothes on our back, a roof over our heads, and a comfy place to sleep are most likely richer than 75 percent of the world. It’s a remarkably small thing, but having a cold shower instead of a hot one for a week also reminded me how grateful I am to have the life I have.
It’s a good reminder to be grateful for the life we have, not jealous of others who have even more. We often have no idea how wealthy we actually are, literally. This website will show you how your income compares to the rest of the world. Gapminder is an amazing tool to help understand the state of the world we live in.
Great transitional activity
Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, I switched to a remote schedule for my 9–5 job. I go to the office once to twice a week depending on the meetings I have, but everything else is from home.
One downside of this new normal is that I have a harder time making the switch from the blog work to the office work. Once I’m done working on the blog between 7:30 and 8, I have breakfast, shower, get dressed, and, I go back to the exact same desk I was sitting at an hour ago. I don’t go to the office anymore.
I found the cold shower to be a great “brain reboot.” Once I was dressed and ready for work, it was a lot easier to forget the blog and focus on my 9–5. I was less tempted to go back to the blog because of the environment (my house) or even worse, to juggle both activities at the same time.
It’s actually not that cold at all
At the end of the experiment, I wanted to know how cold the water actually was. The answer was more than underwhelming:
18.6°C. That’s 65.48°F. I was hoping it’d be at least 16. In fact, I measured the temperature once in the afternoon and got 19.3°C. I thought it was too high, so I took another water sample early in the morning. I wanted to get the water while the pipes were still cold. 18.6°C was still laughable. Had I really been overthinking showering in 18.6°C water?
A lot of life’s experiences are like cold water: it’s often not as bad as you thought it would be.
Cold showers definitely made me feel at the top of my game, and I wondered if there was more to them. I did a little bit of research and learned that they also have a ton of health benefits.
Cold showers activate and increase your blood circulation. They reduce muscle soreness. They reduce chronic fatigue and make your feel energised, but they also work great to put you to sleep. If you take a cold shower at the end of your day, before going to bed, you’ll most likely sleep better. More on cold showers health benefits: here and here.
When I started this challenge, I thought it was going be the hardest one, and I was looking forward to the end of it from day one, before even having my first 18.6°C shower. Now that I’ve been through it, I can safely say I will still take cold showers once in a while, for all the reasons mentioned above. The kick start to the day, the health benefits, the gratefulness, the bad morning cure.
Now that I know I can go straight into ice-cold water, I will have no problem going from warm to cold to ice-cold, if I prefer to do it like that. Next time I have a bad night’s sleep, I’ll definitely jump straight in.
Taking a cold shower every day for a week has been a great experiment, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking into a fun and efficient way to kick start their day. This type of radical and consistent change can unlock the door to new pathways for one’s self-development and opportunities. Unlike other types of radical change where failure is almost guaranteed because the task at hand too complex, the ignition plan is very simple. It follows 3 steps:
- Turning the water tap all the way down to cold
- Jumping in, letting it hit you, and then realising it’s ok, then
- Feeling amazingly refreshed, worry-free, and ready to tackle the day in a new light.
Thanks a lot for reading, and enjoy the journey.