Shower stimulates nerve endings, creative thought

February 11, 2007|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,New York Times News Service

Ever wonder why, when you skip your morning shower, you can't seem to get going, can't shake the sluggishness that stalks you from your sleep?

Ever had a creative thought while the water cascades down your back?

It's not happenstance that a morning shower energizes you, promotes insightful thinking and makes your skin tingle.

"Being in warm water is a very pleasurable experience, and pleasure is mood-elevating," says Philip Rainer, who works at Karner Psychological Associates in Guilderland, N.Y., and has been a therapist for 23 years, often dealing with matters of mood, pleasure, relaxation and creativity. "Our energy rises as we experience pleasure. It helps to get us alert and awake and in a better mood."

There's a scientific explanation for that, says Frank Rice, a professor in the Center for Neuropharmacology and Neuroscience at Albany Medical College.

When you take a shower, he says, the warm water running over your body stimulates nerve endings in the epidermis, the outer layer of skin.

"We recently discovered that the cells of the epidermis, called keratinocytes, contain natural opium-related compounds known as beta-endorphins," Rice says.

Beta-endorphins cause a pleasurable sensation when released in the brain.

In a study published in Nature Medicine in 2003, Rice and his colleagues found that stimulation of the uppermost cells of the epidermis, as happens during a shower, causes a release of beta-endorphins that act on nerve endings to cause a soothing sensation.

"Just the stimulation itself raises the awareness level of the brain," Rice says. "That triggers activity that can lead to something that is a new thought."

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