“We loved how it made us feel,” PLUNJ owner Lauren Foster said about cold plunging. “We got into it mainly for the physical recovery side, but eventually we found that the mental side of benefits from cold exposure was even more telling for us, and more beneficial.”
Lauren and her husband Sean began a love affair with cold plunging that stemmed from their passion for running in Utah’s Provo Canyon. One summer, they began ending their runs with an icy cold plunge in the Provo River. They would sometimes even bring people to the river with them. Over time, they fell in love with cold plunging as its own activity.
Soon, they began to fill their deep freezer with ice, which they would then transfer to their bathtub for regular makeshift cold plunges. Eventually, they bought a cattle trough, filled it with ice, and started to host groups in their backyard for cold plunge gatherings.
On the Fourth of July in 2018, Lauren began to suffer from insomnia. That night, she had no idea how to help her baby Ari, who was awake with a very high fever. Later, they found out that Ari had hand, foot, and mouth disease. From then on, Lauren struggled to fall asleep at night — finally drifting at 4 or 5 o’clock AM with a required wake-up time of 6 AM — and it went on for about a year.
Lauren took several different types of medicine and was educated through cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia about her condition and how she could deal with it. At first, she consumed every informational source about sleep she could find, including the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.
At night from about 10 PM until 4 or 5 AM, she applied notes taken in therapy and from the books she was reading to deal with her long sleepless nights. During the night she read, folded laundry and did other chores, took walks with a headlamp and pepper spray around the neighborhood, and colored, taking care to stay away from the blue light screen of her phone.
“I had all these tools, but I was becoming more and more obsessed with sleep too,” Lauren said. “If you have ever dealt with something like that, you know that it's the only thing you can think of all the time.”
She created to-do lists of things to finish before sleeping, but the ever-growing list of things to do before she’d allow herself to sleep ramped up her stress and anxiety.
Through all this, Lauren continued to plunge into cold water, which became the only time her mind wasn’t consumed by the thought of sleep. But she hadn’t yet connected the dots that cold exposure might have the ability to help her specifically with her insomnia.
During her quest for a solution, Lauren started a supposedly non-addictive medication that helped her fall asleep at night. However, in May of 2019, she found out she was pregnant again. She and Sean were excited, but she wasn’t allowed to take the sleep medicine while she was pregnant and had to cut out the medicine cold turkey. When she stopped the medicine, it became clear that she had been addicted. She went through major withdrawals that caused her skin to itch all over, again keeping her awake at night all over again.
“I remember that on one of my sleepless, itchy nights, I took a cold plunge,” Lauren says. “I went out to our cattle trough. It was already filled with water and I added a bunch of ice in there. I think I was there the longest I've ever sat in a cold plunge. I was so itchy and desperate to sleep again. As soon as I hit the water, my mind and my body calmed down. And I was probably in there for 15 minutes.”
Lauren said that in the cold plunge, she could only focus on her brain, her body, and the cold water that she was sitting in. “It was almost spiritual, honestly, that I was sitting in there and I felt relaxed,” she said. “I felt calm. I went to bed about a half hour later, and I slept great. I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and so good.”
Lauren said that incorporating contrast therapy into her life allowed her to think more clearly through challenges. Plus, she became more present for herself, her family, friends, and her work. “And so it just became a necessary part of our routine and our regimen and we wanted everyone else to be part of it too.”
Later, Sean recommended that Lauren read a book he’d just finished called The Finnish Way by Katja Pantzar. The book touted the positive effects of not only cold plunging, but pairing it with sauna in a Finnish-style ritual known to many as contrast therapy. After no luck in finding an affordable Scandinavian-style experience they were looking for, Lauren and Sean decided to open their own — and that’s how PLUNJ was born.
Lauren knows it can be scary to jump in freezing cold water or sweat in a hot and humid sauna. But the benefits that come are far worth the discomfort.
“That’s how it was for my insomnia,” Lauren said. “I thought, ‘I can get into this cold pool and and struggle for a few minutes, but the benefit is that I get to sleep all night.’”