Shower head

What are shower thoughts and why do we have them?

By John Jannuzzi
shower headshower head

Ever found yourself struck with brilliance while bathing? An epiphany in the shower? You’re not alone. You’re just one of the millions who has experienced what’s popularly referred to as a shower thought. They can come out of nowhere and range from the mundane (“trains are just horizontal elevators”) to the provocative, or even genius.

The phenomenon has been recognized more commonly in the past few years, thanks in large part to internet communities that have sprung up around the concept. Look up a hashtag on Twitter and you’ll be face to face with thousands of random, entertaining or deep shower thoughts. Visit Reddit’s Showerthoughts subreddit and you’ll find the same. (In fact, we recommend you check both whenever you’ve got some time to kill.)

But what exactly are shower thoughts and why do we have these seemingly fleeting moments of genius when we’re showering?

Your Environment

Consider your surroundings — it’s warm, comforting, and most likely familiar. It’s a place of relaxation where you can feel free to let your mind wander off amidst the smells of your favorite shampoos and soaps.

Free From Distractions

There are no phones to bother you, nobody to interrupt you (usually), and it’s time you can be completely alone with your thoughts. All those factors will also throw a little dopamine around your head, which can jolt otherwise sleepy (and creative) sections of your brain. It’s the perfect place to let loose, sing a few songs, and think differently.

Riding the Brain Train

Though there’s more at work here than a blissful steamy shower and pruning fingers. As your body relaxes and you enter a routine or monotonous thought process, your mind follows suit. More specifically, your prefrontal cortex (where your more complex thinking and planning goes down) relaxes as you go on a sort of autopilot. Think of it as the part of your brain that runs when you’re in deep focus, or the voice in your head that would stop you from throwing a drink in somebody’s face (it moderates your social behavior as well).

When your prefrontal cortex is relaxed, the rest of your brain known as the default network shifts into gear. This is the machinery that lights up as you daydream or let your mind wander. With this engaged, new connections and solutions are illuminated — the kind you would normally dismiss if you were deeply focused. A clear (and clean) head does a body good.

No Rules

Timing plays a factor in all of this, too. Most of us tend to do it either in the morning or in the evening — basically whenever we’re a little drowsy or tired. Intuition would tell you that being in a bit of a haze is bad for creative thinking. But that’s not the case. When you’re a little sleepy, your brain doesn’t filter out distractions or imposed rules as easily. This helps you disassociate certain ideas from others. In other words, shower thoughts come because you’re more likely to “think outside the box” or consider more creative avenues.

All these factors — the total comfort, the relaxing of your mind, and a little haze — prime you to think creatively, so no surprise some of us have our best thoughts in the shower. At the very least, it’s great evidence for keeping a healthy bathing routine. Besides, you never know, the next time you’re washing up you might just have an epiphany.