It started innocently enough: After I sat through a Zoom meeting clearly miserable with nasal congestion, my colleague, editor Gabriella Gershenson, kindly suggested I try soaking my feet in some hot water. “It may help you sleep better, too.” In a ’90s sitcom, that would be the line that echoes as I wavy-effect out of a flashback, into a current scene where I’m explaining how I came to love soaking my feet before bed.
To start, I ordered a cream-color version of this foot soak bucket from an online Asian grocer, where they tend to be cheaper (I’ve also seen a smaller size at an H Mart in New Jersey). It’s inexpensive and made from a high-quality, thick plastic, and it has a sturdy handle that allows you to move it fairly easily. The bucket is also nice and tall—about 9.5 inches—but with a small footprint, so you can get ankle-deep without using up too much water or splashing your environs as you soak. And it has little nubs at the bottom, so you can press your foot against them for a gentle massage. Speaking of the small footprint, though, if your feet measure longer than 10.5 inches (which is about a size 9.5 in men’s shoes or a size 11 in women’s), you should look for something bigger.
Inomata Foot Soak Bucket
You can probably use any bucket or basin you have on hand, but this bucket is especially nice if soaking your feet becomes a daily or weekly habit. It’s tall, sturdy, and easy to carry even when filled.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $15.
Having enjoyed foot soaking at Chinese spas, I mimicked that process, filling my soaking tub about halfway with water that was hot enough to feel a little uncomfortable but not scalding—I like mine between 108 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit—and leaving my feet in it for 20 to 30 minutes. The first time I did this, I noticed how much it helped me relax and how quickly I was able to fall asleep. I also found I slept more soundly and woke up feeling more refreshed. (As a working mom with three little kids, good sleep often feels like a mirage, just out of reach.)
The more I soaked my feet, the more curious I became about if these effects have been studied and if I was doing it the right way. The practice of foot bathing spans many cultures, from ancient times to today, and it continues to be popular in Chinese and Japanese therapeutic traditions (to name just a couple). A small but growing number of studies about foot soaking and sleep quality show some promise. One study found that a 20-minute soak had a positive effect on sleep latency and total sleep duration; in other words, budgeting a foot bath into your nightly routine can send you to dreamland faster and help you stay there longer. Another study found improvements in sleep efficiency, especially in those with poor sleep quality.
I also spoke with Dr. Daniel Barone, associate medical director at the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine and author of Let’s Talk About Sleep, and though he has yet to adopt foot soaking as a remedy for his patients, he said the science is interesting and corroborates what doctors already know. “There is pretty good data to suggest that extremity warming, whether that be hands or feet, actually changes your body’s core temperature. It can drop the core temperature as heat is dissipated, and that helps promote sleep.” He agreed that this should have helpful effects on both falling and staying asleep. (Something we also found to be true for sleeping with socks).
A footbath is not a good idea in a few instances. The American Diabetes Association cautions that those with diabetes should never soak their feet in hot water, as poor circulation can make it difficult to sense heat properly, leading to burns (it can also dry out the skin, which can lead to other complications). Barone also cautioned that if you have any kind of foot injury or neuropathy, it’s best to check with your doctor and, if you get the go-ahead, to always measure the temperature of water to keep it in a safe range (below 110 degrees Fahrenheit; though it is technically safe, it still felt very hot in my own informal tests). No matter what, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about a new remedy you’re trying.
Soaking my feet has resulted in one more unintended consequence: It’s a nice treat at the end of the day—one that doesn’t take a lot of work—so I’m much less likely to procrastinate getting ready for bed. Sometimes I’ll soak while I’m finishing a TV show, and other times I’ll put the screens away and read a book or let my mind wander. But every time, I settle into bed just a little more relaxed, and a little more ready for sleep.
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This article was edited by Daniela Gorny and Christine Ryan.
1. Dr. Daniel Barone, associate medical director and sleep medicine specialist at Weill Cornell Medicine, phone interview, January 23, 2023
2. Huei-Lin Yang, Xue-Ping Chen, Kwo-Chen Lee, et al., The effects of warm-water footbath on relieving fatigue and insomnia of the gynecologic cancer patients on chemotherapy, Cancer Nursing, November 1, 2010
3. Allehe Seyyedrasooli, Leila Valizadeh, Vahid Zamanzadeh, et al., The effect of footbath on sleep quality of the elderly: a blinded randomized clinical trial, Journal of Caring Sciences, November 30, 2013
4. Vahideh Aghamohammadi, Roghayeh Salmani, Reyhaneh Ivanbagha, et al., Footbath as a safe, simple, and non-pharmacological method to improve sleep quality of menopausal women, Research in Nursing & Health, December 1, 2020
5. Leila Valizadeh, Alehe Seyyedrasooli, Vahid Zamanzadeh, et al. Comparing the Effects of Reflexology and Footbath on Sleep Quality in the Elderly: A Controlled Clinical Trial, Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, November 1, 2015