Can Hot Baths Help Ease Depression Symptoms?

By Beth Leipholtz 10/31/18

A recent study examined the effects that a regular hot bath had on people with depression.

woman taking a bubblebath

Can a bath a day keep the blues away? Researchers seem to think so.

A new study published in New Scientist indicates that by taking regular afternoon baths, people with depression may experience a “moderate but persistent lift in mood.”

During the study, researchers from the University of Freiburg in Germany took 45 individuals with depression and had one group soak in hot water (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to 30 minutes, then wrap in a blanket and hot water bottles for an additional 20 minutes, while another group took 40 to 45 minutes of exercise twice per week.

Then, after eight weeks, the individuals taking the afternoon baths scored six points lower on a widely used depression scale, while those exercising scored about three points lower. 

The theory is that warm baths strengthen and synchronize a person’s circadian rhythm by increasing the core body temperature. A circadian rhythm is “the daily fluctuations in behavior and biochemistry that affect every one of our organs, including the brain,” the Guardian notes.

For most people, core body temperature increases during the day and decreases at night, which helps the body to fall asleep. But in those with depression, the circadian rhythm is frequently “flatter, disrupted or delayed by several hours.” So, by affecting the core body temperature, baths may help those with depression to fall asleep more easily.

In addition to affecting the circadian rhythm, hot baths could lead to the firing of more neurons that distribute serotonin.

According to the Guardian, depression is likely related to low levels of serotonin in the brain, and research involving rats has found that neurons that release serotonin are connected to mood-regulating parts of the brain, which fire when body temperature increases.

When it comes to taking a good bath, the Guardian recommends picking a time without disruptions, possibly using an essential oil, making bathwater slightly warmer than body temperature, and taking into account the temperature of the room.

However, such hot baths could cause issues for some people. According to Bustle, some study participants struggled to get hot enough water at home, since 104 degrees is fairly high, and had to go to a spa instead.

People with health issues should be sure to check with their doctors before taking such hot baths, as they may be dangerous in some circumstances.

Of course, hot baths may not be the answer for everyone. But, as Bustle notes, they may be a good go-to while waiting the four-to-six weeks it can take for antidepressants to start working.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.