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When Should You Cold Plunge? The Best (and Worst) Times for Cold Exposure

Feeling confused about when you should be taking icy cold plunges or showers? If you’re new to deliberately using cold exposure to better your health, figuring out ideal timing can be frustrating.

When I first started daily cold therapy, I made all kinds of timing mistakes that cost me energy and sleep. I incorrectly assumed any time was fine to hop into an impromptu ice bath. Eventually, through trial and error, I discovered my ideal cold plunge schedule.

In this article, you’ll learn the best times to expose your body to the cold for optimal health, performance, recovery, and sleep. I’ll also tell you when to avoid frigid soaks to prevent disrupting your productivity or rest. Whether you are hoping to manage mood, accelerate workout recovery or improve sleep, the clock matters more than you may realize.

Quick Summary

  • The best times for cold exposure are in the morning upon waking up, before a workout, and in the afternoon to provide an energy boost. Cold exposure in the morning helps increase alertness and focus to start the day. Taking a cold plunge bath before your workout can enhance performance. Using cold therapy in the afternoon when you tend to feel tired combats fatigue.
  • While a cold plunge at night may help some people sleep, it is not ideal for everyone as it can overstimulate and make falling asleep difficult. The cold triggers the release of alertness hormones.
  • It is best to avoid cold plunging in the few hours leading up to bedtime since it raises core body temperature. This can keep you awake. Cold showers at night are also not advisable for this reason.
  • If you want to use cold plunging to help sleep, try it 1-2 hours before bedtime. This allows your core to cool back down to reach the ideal sleeping temperature.

Morning Cold Exposure

Taking a cold shower or plunge early in the morning is my recommended method, as it offers several advantages:


Increased Energy and Alertness. When you expose your body to the cold first thing in the morning, it releases norepinephrine and dopamine to help wake you up. These hormones boost focus and concentration. A morning cold plunge gives you clean energy without needing coffee. I have better mental clarity on days I cold plunge versus when I skip it. The burst of energy lasts for hours.

Regulated Blood Pressure. Cold water immersion early in the day also regulates blood pressure. Your cardiovascular system has to work harder to maintain core body warmth. This primes your circulation for the rest of the day.

Enhanced Metabolism. Frigid water activates your metabolism first thing in the morning. This acceleration continues burning calories for hours after you get out of the cold.


Some individuals report feeling tired after an early morning cold plunge. This may happen if you have conditioned your body to associate cold exposure with sleep.

Having a warm shower after the cold plunge brings core body temperature back up to avoid this conflicting, tired response.

Overall, cold water immersion in the morning positively impacts energy, focus, circulation, and metabolism, making it an ideal way to start the day.

Evening Cold Exposure

Cold plunges at night offer similar benefits but run the risk of disrupting sleep:


Inflammation Reduction. Cold showers lower inflammation through vasoconstriction, which diminishes blood flow to inflamed areas. The anti-inflammatory effects promote physical relaxation.

Possible Melatonin Release. Frigid water lowers core temperature, which may induce melatonin production. Researchers believe melatonin contributes to sleep.


However, there are some drawbacks to cold exposure at night:

Increased Alertness. Cold plunges trigger the release of cortisol and norepinephrine. These hormones boost alertness, making it hard to wind down for sleep.

Elevated Core Body Temperature. After the initial cold shock, your core temp rebounds higher through a process called thermogenesis. This is counterproductive for sleep.

While a pre-bed cold plunge works for some people, it can hinder sleep for most. The alertness boost and core temp increase disrupt rest.

Should you cold plunge before or after a workout?

This is a question I get a lot. In general, most people would benefit the most from cold plunging after a workout. Cold exposure after your workout accelerates recovery, making it the best time to cold plunge.

Pre-workout Benefits

Braving a cold plunge before your workout or competition has several advantages:

Heightened Mental Focus. Exposing your body to cold water triggers the release of noradrenaline and dopamine in the brain. These hormones serve to heighten concentration, motivation, and alertness in anticipation of your impending workout.

Increased Stamina. The cool temperature also causes vasoconstriction which prompts your heart to pump more blood to keep your core warm. This primes your cardiovascular system for superior endurance. Studies confirm cold therapy pre-exercise boosts stamina.

Elevated Pain Threshold. Thanks to the rush of hormones and increased circulation, your body enters a heightened pain tolerance state before training even begins. This allows you to push harder during strength sessions.

Pre-workout Cold Exposure Drawbacks.

However, there are a few potential downsides to cold water immersion right before you train as well:

Impaired Power Output. Some research found intense cold exposure temporarily reduces maximal force production. This could negatively impact one rep max lifts or peak power during explosive movements.

Overstimulation. The sudden fight or flight response to extreme cold could also spike your heart rate and adrenaline too high. This risks overamping your sympathetic nervous system right as intense exercise further elevates stress hormones.

While the focus and fatigue resistance benefits often make pre-workout cold therapy worthwhile, carefully control intensity and duration to avoid depleting workout quality. Leave at least 15-30 minutes between ending your cold plunge and beginning high-intensity training.

Post-workout Benefits

Taking a cold plunge bath or shower after your gym session or team practice offers several powerful benefits:

Reduced Muscle Soreness. Exposing your body to cold therapy post-workout constricts blood vessels around damaged muscle fibers. This reduces circulation to fatigued areas which helps blunt pain signals and eases aches. The cold soothes weary muscles, making it easier to train daily.

Faster Recovery. The cold also flushes metabolic waste products out of overworked tissues. Lower post-workout circulation decreases inflammatory compounds that would otherwise keep your muscles inflamed. This accelerated clearing process lets you bounce back quicker. You minimize injury risk by cooling your overheated muscles with cold water therapy. This makes training more sustainable long-term.

Post-workout Drawbacks

While cold plunging after your workout or game has tangible benefits, it may also have some downsides to consider:

Blunted Strength Gains. Research shows the cold halts inflammation necessary for maximizing strength and size gains. Post-workout ice baths regularly can hamper muscular hypertrophy results over time.

Increased Injury Risk. Sudden immersion in extremely cold water can cause muscles to constrict violently after intense exercise. This rapid tightening puts recently stretched tissues at risk for strain or delayed onset muscle soreness.

The science confirms that cold exposure after training accelerates short-term recovery but likely inhibits your body’s ability to repair and fortify muscles fully. Evaluate your personal goals carefully when deciding on post-workout cold therapy timing and temperature.

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