Photo by Filip42 via Flickr.
In Indonesia, we've grown accustomed to taking a shower two times a day: once in the morning, and again in late afternoon, or as soon as we arrive home after a long day. Since we were kids, our parents, grandparents, and even teachers, have repeatedly told us to never skip a shower. They also warn us to never take a shower after sunset. Why? Because you can all kinds of diseases and maybe even experience some supernatural shit, or so they say. But honestly, since when do the working class arrive home before sunset? After a long day at work, most of us still have to brave the rush hour traffic for a second time. Taking a shower before the sun sets is the least of our problems. We have to settle with taking a shower as soon as we get home—which is usually late. Andre Cahyo, a 27 year-old video editor in Jakarta, said that he usually gets home from work around 8 pm, a couple of hours after sunset. He can only fall sleep once he's finished taking a shower and he's been doing it since he was a kid. Andre told me he's never experienced anything weird with night showers. If anything, Andre said, he feels better after taking them. "So far I never caught cold, masuk angin, or experienced any joint pains," Andre said. "I take a shower because I want to clean my body after a full day of activities, and exposure to dust and pollution."
Maybe Andre is just a lucky guy because, as it turns out, our parents have been right all along—showering at night can actually be bad for your health. But it has more to do with our metabolism than when we take a shower. Mahesa Paranadipa, from the Indonesian Doctors Association, said that the state of our metabolism falls into two categories: before we sleep and after sleep. Our body temperature rises as we go about our day. So when we take a shower at night and the overall temperature of our bodies are relatively colder, the water could "shock" you, Mahesa said. "It's like pouring cold water into a hot glass, it will break," he explained.Why is the water cold? Because a lot of Indonesians have a traditional water reservoir and ladle for showering, not Western standing shower with hot water. So, in this situation, it's better to wait and sleep for a couple of hours so our metabolism can recover, he continued. "The effect of the cold water weakens our immune system," Mahesa said. "So taking a shower at night after a whole day of activities isn't recommended. But if you get some sleep first before taking a shower, your body temperature will have adjusted. That would actually improve our blood circulation."But what about joint pains? Mahesa said that pain in the joints usually occurs when the temperature drops, because the joint fluid thickens. The cold temperature also worsens joints frictions, but it doesn't cause them. OK, I'm relieved. But only partially, since there's a different myth we need to debunk. In some local cultures, taking a shower late at night is associated with mystical rituals. Dewi Sundari, a Javanese mystic, told me that for hundreds of years, people have been taking showers or baths in the middle of the night as part of a water petal in a ritual in the traditional Javanese belief system "Kejawen." The ritual is called tirakat pembuka aura, which roughly translates to the "aura-opening ritual," and its purpose is to enhance our appearance and boost our confidence, Dewi said. She explained that the ritual is typically done between midnight and 2 am, and during a full moon.This ritual is pretty popular among celebrities. Some say that Julia Perez, the late dangdut singer, liked soaking in the bathtub full of water petals, just like the fabled "Queen of the South Sea," a goddess in Javanese and Sundanese mythology. "The night is brightest during full moon and the air temperature is expected to get really cold," Dewi told VICE. "You have to say a prayer when you take the bath. Hopefully, during the brightest time of night, and during the coldest temperature, it's easier for us to internalize the prayers."As for myself, I'll put my faith in the doctor. Besides, I'd much rather get my beauty sleep than take a shower in the middle of a cold night. Hopefully sleep can enhance my aura, too.