how cold therapy can help you sleep better
If there’s one thing I’ve never been able to integrate, it’s cold water therapy. I may have been brought up diving in icy rivers on holiday, but the thought of taking an ice bath or engaging in daily cold showers (in the UK) makes me break out in a cold sweat. Still, the benefits are well-documented, from reducing anxiety to improving immunity and sleep.
I have a friend who swears by these fucking cold showers, and she’s a walking advertisement for it: her energy is contagious, she rarely gets sick, and she seems capable of training hard day in and day out. She wakes up at 5am and falls into a deep sleep before 10pm – the dream.
But there is another way to enjoy the cold. Cryotherapy has grown in popularity over the past few years, ranging from the sort of thing Novak Djokovic swears by to the midday activity your average PT is likely engaging in. The best thing about cryo is that you only need three minutes to reap the benefits – a far more appealing prospect than sitting in an ice cold bath for half an hour.
It’s perhaps only natural that something previously reserved for professional athletes is slipping into the mainstream, as more and more of us take our training and overall well-being more seriously. Back then, running a marathon was considered an extreme thing to do. These days, every office has a handful of marathon runners in its ranks. Many of us train five or six days a week and almost everyone is concerned about their sleep. We all need deep recovery and effective mood boosters. The fact that you can now book cryotherapy sessions through ClassPass tells you how democratized the practice has become.
Benefits of cryotherapy for sleep quality
Proven benefits include reduction migraine symptoms, pain injury and inflammation. Sounds good, right? But I wanted to know if, like cold showers, there was any benefit to trying cryo before a workout – if it would improve sleep quality enough to help you recover in time to crush your run/class session /weight.
Some studies suggest that cryotherapy can improve sleep for active people. A very little researchpublished in the European Journal of Sports Sciencefound that active men who did a three-minute whole-body cryotherapy session slept better than those who didn’t freeze – which the scientists attributed to “greater pain relief and improved parasympathetic nerve activity”. Another study examined the impact of cryo on French male and female basketball players. Athletes experienced better quality sleep after cryo, and although they didn’t sleep for long, the sleep they got was “deeper, calmer and less disturbed”.
To put the theory to the test, I headed to London Cryo. I am in the very beginning of training for my second ultra marathon (tower race), but above all, I’ve been cycling a lot lately. Whether it’s the subway strikes that forced me to cycle two hours round trip to meetings or pedal the 17 km from my parents’ house to the office, the month last one was quite tiring.
Add to that the fact that my partner has a new job that requires him to get up at 4:45 a.m. every day, and I’m a bit of a mess. The idea of breaking up a gym class right now seems…out of reach. So, I wanted to see if a few minutes of freezing could help me get a good night’s sleep – even if slightly disturbed by someone getting up before dawn – and perform well on tired legs.
Cryotherapy – what does it actually mean?
My main worry, aside from freezing to death, was that I forgot my bikini at home on my way to the studio. It turns out, though, that you’re doing cryo in your pants anyway. Dressed in a dressing gown, gloves and socks, I was led into the cryogenic chamber – which had tons of smoke billowing above. At -107°C, the idea of standing there almost naked for more than 10 seconds started to scare me.
But Maria, the founder of London Cryo, stayed with me in the room, chatting and ordering me to move clockwise every few seconds (I guess no part of my body moved). is transformed into an ice cube). Before I knew it, time was up and I was able to walk out feeling… refreshed. It was cold, sure, but not as freezing as jumping into a cold lake or lying in a bath.
Does the cold help you sleep better?
From the cryogenic chamber, I warmed up in London Cyro’s infrared sauna, then opted for a cold shower to clean myself up. By the time I got home (more biking) I was exhausted. And interestingly, I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in months – not really noticing when my partner got up for work and certainly not staying awake afterwards. By the time my 6am alarm went off, I woke up feeling refreshed and ready.
Freeze to increase strength?
To put the cryo to the test, I booked an 8am gym class in central London the next morning – a 40 minute cycle from my flat. After my coffee, I hopped on the bike and arrived at the studio ready to see how well I could perform on already tired legs. Throughout, my quads and hamstrings felt energized—even for multiple sets of a jump lunge section, which usually left me kneeling in agony.
And despite the fact that I worked really hard in the class and felt like I had a solid workout (my Whoop gave me a total strain of 17.5 days – exaggerated), my DOMS the next day weren’t as brutal as I expected.
While it’s hard to say what a single dose of cold really does to your ability to work hard and recover, I definitely felt like my legs felt lighter, my sleep sounded deeper, and I recovered faster after spending a few minutes in a freezer. I still refuse to do ice baths, but before my next run or trek I will definitely head to a cryo chamber.