Health & Fitness | November 2, 2022 12:53 pm

An Insomnia Cure Awaits…in Your Freezer?

A blast of 0º Fahrenheit could turn your whole day (and evening) around

A conventional deli ice freezer.
There's no cheaper way to cash in on cold therapy than sticking your head into a freezer.
libre de droit/Getty Images

There’s a great riff buried in one of podcasters Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan’s reviews of House of the Dragon this past season, where they bemoan that Westeros maesters clearly haven’t learned the wonders of a well-placed “cold compress.” To hear Ryan wax poetically about it, a single chilly towel should be able to fix any ailment under the sun…even intense skin poisoning from sitting on a throne of sharp swords.

In our world, there’s a mountain of studies supporting thermoregulation’s practically-magical properties. Over the last half-decade, especially, researchers have extolled the virtues of cold or heat therapy — saunas, cold plunges, infrared saunas, wintertime exercise, cryotherapy, etc. — in helping us fine-tune our fitness, our calm and our sleep.

The only issue? Most of these methods involve some sort of financial or temporal commitment. If you don’t have a cold ocean or lake nearby for a morning polar plunge, for instance, your best bet is either joining a gym with an ice bath on the premises…or buying a barrel of your own. Each option is expensive or tedious, which is why most cold water worshippers resort to taking faithful, daily Scottish showers. (In which you finish off a normal-temperature shower with an ice-cold rinse…as cold as the nozzle will allow. About 45 seconds to a minute of this does the trick.)

What is the “trick,” exactly? A grab-bag of life-extending reactions. Cold water immersion is believed to lower blood pressure, stimulate the immune system, release “happy” neurotransmitters like dopamine, adrenaline, norepinephrine and serotonin, promote lymphatic drainage, reduce joint pain and jumpstart an effective, elusive energy-burning process called thermogenesis. In other words: cold therapy instructs your heart to pump blood to vital organs. It wakes you the hell up.

And there’s an even easier way to take advantage of cold exposure. (Even easier, say, than a cold compress.) Just stick your head in the freezer. Seriously. It’s one of the top recommendations from Dr. Aric Prather — a sleep psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was recently profiled by The New York Times — and it’s a method we’ve sampled ourselves. It’s an admittedly stupid, yet highly effective way to spontaneously electrify the brain.

Its greatest boon is not actually what it does for you in that moment, but what it might prevent you from doing — that’s to say, pouring yourself another cup of coffee. Insomnia experts caution that caffeine intake up to six hours before bedtime has a “significant effect on sleep disturbance.” So if you’re regularly having a cup around 4 p.m. or later, you just can’t expect sleep to come easily in that 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. window…which is why people tend to push their bedtimes back, to accommodate their caffeine-fueled afternoon workflow, which has them waking up tired and craving coffee, which leads to — yeah, you get it.

In the interest of broad-scale thermoregulation, you should definitely think about incorporating cold plunges into your mornings and sauna sessions into your evenings. The former will wake you up, the latter will calm you down. Both will convey restorative properties for the body. But for a quick, no-cost afternoon fix, consider thrusting your noggin into the land of frozen French fries and green beans. It might turn your whole day (and evening) around.