Why Cold Showers Can Make You More Productive

For some founders, the best way to start the day is with a shock to the system. 

Research suggests a cold shower first thing in the morning can help you get more done throughout the day, and entrepreneurs are taking notice. While the practice of jolting the body awake with cold water is not new, Goop Lab, the Netflix documentary series hosted by Gwyneth Paltrow and her wellness brand Goop, recently highlighted the benefits of cold temperatures in an episode featuring extreme athlete Wim Hof. Nicknamed “The Iceman,” Hof holds cold exposure world records such as withstanding a 112-minute ice bath and running a half marathon barefoot above the Arctic Circle.

In January, Bethany McDaniel, CEO and founder of Primally Pure, a Murrieta, California-based skincare company, took up daily cold showers after she came across the Wim Hof Method, which combines breathing techniques and exposure to cold temperatures to promote better focus and sleep, among other health benefits. Starting with a 20-second shower on the coldest setting, McDaniel slowly worked her way up to two minutes. Seven months later, she says, her now daily two-minute cold blast pushes her to do things that she doesn’t want to do.

“This ritual gives me the mentality of diving headfirst into things versus procrastinating,” she says. “I never want to take a cold shower, but I do it anyway and this mentality carries through other aspects of my life and business.” She says if she skips the cold shower for a couple of days, she’s not as on top of things.

The cold truth, says Dr. Ashwini Nadkarni, an associate psychiatrist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, is that exposure to low temperatures activates the sympathetic nervous system in our bodies, which controls our involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. It’s the reason why you flinch at an incoming object before really processing what is happening. “Because of the density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower can also send a number of electrical impulses from peripheral nerves to the brain, charging up the body and activating one’s alertness,” he says.

Nadkarni referenced studies, such as one from 2007 that observed daily cold showers in regards to depression. Participants took cold showers anywhere from two to seven minutes, gradually increasing the time spent in the cold to make the showers less shocking at first, similar to what McDaniel did in her own self-experiment. The research and Nadkarni noted that benefits occurred after extended periods of time, so noticing a difference in your productivity can take months. A 2016 study of workers who took cold showers, over a 30 day-period, found an almost 30 percent reduction in self-reported sick days, plus an improved sense of productivity.

Cold showers can also decrease anxiety, explains Dr. Amanda V. Porter, a psychiatric nurse practitioner with the University of Cincinnati’s Lindner Center of HOPE.  “As anxiety becomes more regulated, racing thoughts slow down, which leads to improved concentration and focus, thereby enhancing cognition and productivity,” she says.

And if cold showers still seem like too much of a commitment, she says that applying ice packs to the wrists or neck is a common hack for treating an acute anxiety episode.

Beyond a physical response, Hof’s website also highlights the benefit of strengthening your willpower through tolerating uncomfortable cold temps for so long. It’s something that McDaniel says she’s experienced first hand– when you’re willing to see through a longer-term commitment, even when it’s difficult, you’re more prepared for the ups and downs of entrepreneurship outside of the shower.