Sauna Then Cold Shower: Are Abrupt Temp Shifts Healthy?

A girl tilting her head back in a cold shower.
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Most people already know by now that saunas and steam rooms are healthy. They extend lifespan, boost immunity, and more. But is going straight from a sauna into an ice cold shower your best bet? Intuitively you may think yes, but here’s what the experts say.

For me it’s always been instinct and only made sense—darting from a sweltering hot sauna into an ice cold shower. It not only feels great and brings instant relief, it’s a preliminary move toward my next step, which is typically another round of sauna/cold shower, rinse and repeat.

It’s a ‘shock’ I’ve rocked for decades with no ill effects.

However I got to thinking one day about the amount of time actually required for optimal adaptation—if there is one—which in my case is zilch. I go from one extreme to the other in a single bound.

But is that healthy?

Couldn’t it be a bit dangerous?

Because technically it’s a pretty big shockaroo and double whammy when you switch temps that fast. It’s like your heart almost bursts from the pressure.

Then I came across a story about a 20-year-old man who died doing the exact same thing, straddling sauna and cold pond in an upscale Japanese facility. Further investigation uncovered risks.

After that and several other concerning reports, I took a closer look.

Sauna Then Cold Shower

Interior of gorgeous wooden sauna with mountain view.
Saunas followed by cold showers can be great for health.

So about the kid in Japan, Dr. Shinya Hayasaka, a professor of bathing medicine, said this: “A large temperature difference stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, causing a spike in blood pressure and increasing the risk of a heart attack or other problems. Even young people may experience an irregular heartbeat and lose consciousness.”

So in other words he fainted and drowned. The extreme proved fatal.

Dr. Shinya’s advice?

“After the sauna it is sufficient to just expose yourself to the open air. If you do take a dip in the water, you can ease the shock by entering the water little by little, starting with your toes.” Which appears to be the prevailing wisdom among experts.

According to one report, “Plunging the body into cold water triggers a sudden, rapid increase in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure known as the cold shock response. That can cause a person to drown within seconds if they involuntarily gasp while their head is submerged. The shock also places stress on the heart and makes it work harder. Within minutes, the loss of heat begins causing other problems.”

Which is especially risky if you have any of the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Heart disease.
  • Arterial dysfunction.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • History of cardiac events.
  • Use of certain drugs.
  • Asthma.
  • Dysphagia (swallowing issues).
  • Sick with a fever.

In fact people with the above are advised to consult a physician before using ice baths, cryotherapy, saunas, hot tubs, any temp extremes.

Professor Hidetoshi Saitoh warned that “new safety measures are needed, such as clearly indicating what is dangerous.”

Cold Plunge Risks

Concrete steps into a cold outdoor lake.
Cold shock proteins are a double-edged sword.

Dr. Lee Hill, an exercise scientist, also suggests acclimating gradually to cold: “The most dangerous time is the first 10 seconds to a minute, when people try to get their breath under control.”

Indeed “sudden immersion in water under 60 degrees Fahrenheit can kill a person in less than a minute,” says a report citing the National Center for Cold Water Safety

A response called the ‘diving reflex’ kicks in and can cause serious problems for folks with issues or those who are unaware they have issues such as weakened heart valves or genetic defects.

Hence it’s advisable to follow best practices and common sense when approaching temperature extremes. “I would caution against it for anyone with a cardiac history,” says Dr. Jorge Plutzky, director of preventive cardiology in Boston. “That cold shock can be dangerous.”

On the flip side there are tons of benefits associated with cold shock.

What Are Cold Shock Proteins?

A girl clasping the back of her neck in a cold shower.
Cold shock proteins are packed with benefits.

The reason why cold showers and baths are so beneficial is due to cold shock proteins, otherwise known as the cold shock response. Cold shock proteins are RNA/DNA binders that upregulate in temperatures of 25°C–33°C. They provide an adaptive response that offsets disequilibrium.

They’re a go-to for mitochondrial biogenesis, reduced inflammation, enhanced immunity, improved cognitive function, ramped glucose and lipid metabolism, disease mitigation, and more.

They boost hormesis, a stress response, and dope benefits.

Cold Shock Protein Benefits

  • Boosts immune response.
  • Reduces inflammation.
  • Fights oxidative stress.
  • Relives arthritis pain.
  • Improves cognition.
  • Supports mental health.
  • Relieves depression.
  • Mitigates disease.
  • Ramps mitochondrial biogenesis.
  • Bolsters the biome.
  • Boosts metabolism.
  • Increases brown andipose tissue.
  • Improves athletic performance.
  • Releases antioxidants.
  • Supports the nervous system.
  • Boosts muscle recovery.
  • Increases endurance. 
  • According to Dr. Rhonda Patrick:
  • Sauna Then Cold Plunge

According to Dr. Rhonda Patrick:

“The body’s response to cold-water immersion and similar cold-exposure techniques like cryotherapy is a robust release of norepinephrine, rapidly setting off a cascade of adaptive effects that influence aspects of metabolism, brain function, and genetic expression. As result, regular, whole-body cold exposure may exert systemic beneficial effects, improving glucose and lipid metabolism, decreasing inflammation, improving cognitive performance, and potentially enhancing immune function – critical aspects of maintaining health in our modern world.”

Sauna To Cold Plunge

An outdoor ice bath up on blocks.
Ice baths rock tons of benefits.

Going from sauna to cold plunge produces similar effects to an ice cold shower after sauna, improving circulation, muscle recovery, the immune system. It also reduces inflammation, oxidative stress, and arthritis pain.

And that’s on top of boosting mood and relieving depression.

According to one report, “After adults who had been diagnosed with depression underwent ten cryotherapy sessions, they showed marked reductions in their depressive symptoms and improved quality of life, mood, and disease acceptance, suggesting that whole-body cryotherapy is beneficial for mental well-being and quality of life. In addition, some anecdotal evidence suggests that cold exposure improves mood and may help treat depression. Findings from a case report suggest that a 68ºF (20°C) cold shower for two to three minutes preceded by a gradual adaptation period can relieve depressive symptoms when performed once or twice daily over the course of several weeks to months.”

Do Cold Showers Help You Lose Weight?

Another benefit of taking a cold shower after sauna is enhanced metabolism, which not only helps you lose weight, it increases brown adipose tissue, a healthy fat. According to this report:

“A study in which healthy young men were exposed to cold for two hours a day for 20 days found that brown fat volume increased 45 percent and cold-induced total brown fat oxidative metabolism increased more than twofold. These findings suggest that cold exposure can increase brown fat activity and may increase energy expenditure to improve metabolic health. Cold exposure also increases brown fat activity in people with little to no detectable brown fat mass. “

It also improves blood glucose, burns calories, and boosts energy.

How Long Should My Cold Shower Be?

Inside view of spacious tiled shower.
Contrast showers that alternate hot and cold are a go-to.

A therapeutic cold shower should begin with 30 seconds and gradually work up to a minute. After that you can progress to two to three minutes and more when you’re acclimated.

Hot and Cold

I personally suggest alternating hot and cold shower temps. I’ve been doing it for decades after hearing about it from my swim coach. It’s especially helpful post-workout and provides slews of benefits.

Just take a three-minute hot shower followed by a one-minute cold shower, then rinse and repeat several times before ending with cold. You can alternate sauna/cold shower for similar effects.

Contrast Shower Benefits

According to the National Institute for Fitness and Sport, alternating hot and cold showers, called contrast showers, provides the following benefits:

  • Improves blood flow and nitric oxide delivery, especially within the brain.
  • Reduces systemic inflammation.
  • Supports the connection between the brain and the digestive system by strengthening vagal tone.
  • Improves appetite regulation.
  • Improves insulin sensitivity.
  • Improves mood, focus, and attention.

You also may have heard that athletes like LeBron James use the technique.

The Takeaway

There are immense health benefits in taking cold showers after saunas and using ice baths and cryotherapy. They include reduced inflammation, improved immunity, stronger health.

Here are the strategies:

  • Cold showers in temperatures below 60 degrees for two to three minutes.
  • Ice baths and cold water immersion up to your lower neck.
  • Topical applications and ice packs.
  • Whole-body cryotherapy in vapors.
  • Safely swimming or submerging in outdoor water bodies.

Like fasting and exercise, however, caution is advised. People with medical conditions should consult a physician before using ice baths, cryotherapy, saunas, hot tubs, and other temp extremes.

You can get the scoop on saunas and steam rooms here > Sauna and Steam Room Benefits

And don’t forget Epsom salt baths, fasting, and exercise >

Epsom Salt Bath Benefits

Beginner Workout Plan 

Fasting Benefits

Earthing Benefits 

Weight Loss Workout

Wheatgrass Benefits

Barley Grass Benefits

Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Vegan Diet Plan

Veganism: A High-Fiber, Biologically Optimal Jam

The medical and health topics covered on the Plate of Grass website and blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to prevent or cure any disease. This article and its content is presented ‘as is’ for informational purposes only.