Getting Healthy & Warm with Infrared Saunas
Ahhh, heat. There really is nothing quite like basking in a hot room or tub, especially when it’s cold outside (hello, winter blues) or you’ve got a case of the sore muscles. One of the latest methods people are using to warm up is the infrared sauna.
Infrared Sauna vs. Traditional Sauna
An infrared sauna is similar to a traditional sauna in that it’s generally in a room and it is used to raise the temperature of your body, but that’s where the similarities end. Instead of using a heat source (usually coal) to heat the air as in a traditional sauna, an infrared sauna uses infrared panels or lamps to directly warm up your body. Infrared sauna lamps use electromagnetic radiation to safely penetrate deeper into your body than warmed air.
GET NERDY WITH IT:
The sun produces both visible and invisible light. One of those invisible spectrums is infrared rays, which make the sun feel warm while ultraviolet rays make it bright. While we know that UV rays are dangerous, scientists have established that infrared waves are beneficial to the human body because they are easily absorbed into the skin. When those waves are absorbed, they stimulate the lymphatic, immune, and cardiovascular systems, increasing circulation and helping to remove toxins.
Health Benefits of Infrared Saunas
People have been touting the benefits of saunas for hundreds of years. That’s probably because regular trips to an infrared sauna are said to have a number of incredible health benefits starting with improving your sleep and ending with relieving aches and pains. Here’s a closer look at what studies say infrared saunas can do for your body:
1. Improve Sleep
Throughout the day, your body regulatesits temperature based on your sleep-wake cycles, cooling down just before bedtime to prepare you for sleep and signal your brain to start producing melatonin (the sleep hormone). That’s why you probably enjoy a cold and dark bedroom, and why it’s tough to get some shuteye on super hot summer nights.
This interesting article on Tuck suggests using a warm bath or a quick session in the infrared sauna to hack your body’s thermoregulation process. Your body is heated in the sauna, and when you get out, your internal body temperature rapidly decreases priming you for sleep.
Personally, I have tried this sleep hack, and it works wonders!
One promising, although small, study in 2015 had patients sit in an infrared sauna for 15 minutes then take a 30-minute nap. The results showed infrared sauna therapy reduced perception of fatigue, anxiety, depression and performance in people with chronic fatigue syndrome.
2. Increase Relaxation and Decrease Stress Levels
Warming your body by taking a bath, soaking in a hot tub or tanning in the sun are all relaxing activities. Infrared saunas have a similar effect by introducing relaxation on a cellular level. The penetration of the electromagnetic waves will stimulate the lymphatic, immune, and cardiovascular systems, increasing circulation and helping your body to completely relax.
But let’s face it, raising your body’s temperature is a stressful act, which means when you do so by sitting in an infrared sauna, your body’s cortisol levels (the stress hormone) will rise.
This study showed that the effects of long-term sauna use on young women helps regulate stress hormones long term. So the short-term rise in cortisol in the sauna helps you better deal with stress throughout the rest of your life.
3. Weight Loss
When your body heats up in an infrared sauna, your heart rate will increase. Studies show that this increase is comparable to when you’re exercising. This means that just sitting in the sauna will burn calories. An article, called Effect of Sweating, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that a 30-minute infrared sauna session could burn roughly 600 calories. It’s an old paper, but the science hasn’t changed.
Now, a sauna session isn’t a replacement for your daily workout, but adding it to your training regimen could help you burn more calories and get you to your weight loss goals quicker.
4. Relieve Sore Muscles and Joints
Speaking of exercise, if you’ve just finished an intense workout, a trip to the sauna might relieve those sore muscles or joints. While most sauna studies focus on general heat exposure from both infrared and traditional saunas, a recent study focused solely on the effects of infrared saunas on recovery from intense workouts. It concluded that the deep penetration of infrared heat helps the neuromuscular system to recover from maximal endurance performance.
5. Clear Skin
Exposing your body to infrared rays heats you from the inside out, which can do wonders for your skin. Not only will all that sweating eliminate toxins you’re your pores, but it increases your circulation, which results in a healthier glow all over.
A collection of studies shows significant improvements in skin appearance using near-infrared technology. Participants experienced a reduction in wrinkles and crow’s feet, as well as improved overall skin tone.
How to Use an Infrared Sauna
While most studies show no adverse effects to regular infrared sauna use, there are still some precautions you should take. For example, pregnant women should avoid saunas (as well as hot tubs and anything else that will raise your internal body temperature). Also, while many studies show infrared sauna use is great for cardiovascular patients, it is always a good idea to consult your doctor first.
For otherwise healthy adults, be sure to follow these simple rules for sauna use:
1. Avoid alcohol before or after your infrared sauna session.
2. Start slow! Begin with 15-20 minute sessions and build to a higher level with the guidance of an expert.
3. Stay hydrated. You should be drinking lots of water anyway, but get a few extra glasses in before, during and after any sauna session.