Many of us enjoy a sauna, whether it’s after a workout or a spa treatment. The heat feels great and helps us relax.
But there’s a new sauna trend that grabbing everyone’s attention, from the Kardashians to everyday people like you and me. Infrared saunas are surging in popularity right now. Their promoters claim a host of benefits, including detoxification, relaxation, and even better sleep.
Can infrared saunas really help you sleep? Keep reading to find out.
What are infrared saunas?
Infrared saunas differ from traditional saunas in the way they create heat. Traditional saunas warm the air around you, creating a heated environment that warms your body in turn. Far-infrared saunas use light (the “far” in infrared refers to its position on the electromagnetic spectrum) to heat your body through radiation.
Since these saunas rely on radiation, the light heats up your body without creating heat in the air around you.
Essentially, an infrared sauna creates the same physical effects (increased body heat, heart rate, and sweating) of a traditional sauna without warming up the air to an uncomfortable 185 degrees. This makes them an appealing option for people who don’t like the heat of traditional saunas, but still want to enjoy their benefits
Sleep benefits of using an infrared sauna
People like saunas because they just feel good. Turns out, it’s more than a feeling.
Saunas may provide real health benefits. More research still needs to be done, but scientists have found infrared sauna therapy alleviates health issues as wide-ranging as rheumatoid arthritis, headache, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.
Now scientists are looking into whether infrared saunas can cure your insomnia like their manufacturers claim. One promising, although small, study in 2015 showed infrared sauna therapy effectively reduced negative symptoms for those living with chronic fatigue, including poor mood and perception of fatigue.
To date, there isn’t any conclusive research on whether infrared saunas help insomniacs or those without chronic fatigue sleep better. However, there are two ways infrared saunas may indirectly help you fall asleep better: by cooling your body temperature and calming your mind.
1. Body temperature
Thermoregulation refers to how your body maintains, or regulates, your body temperature. Here’s how it works:
Throughout the day, your body works to keep your core body temperature relatively steady. However, your core body temperature is designed to fluctuate slightly along with your sleep-wake cycle, cooling down at night to prepare you for sleep. This cool-down in temperature signals to your brain that it’s time to start producing melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Your body temperature continues to drop as you sleep, reaching its lowest point in the middle of the night, before rising again in the morning (along with your stress hormone cortisol) to prepare your body to face the day.
Maintaining a cool body temperature is important for falling asleep. You’re probably already aware of this at some level. It explains why you have trouble sleeping on especially hot summer nights, and why it’s easier to sleep when your bedroom is cool and dark.
Some people try to fall asleep faster by hacking their body’s thermoregulation process with a warm bath before bed. While the bath itself is warm, when they get out, their body temperature swiftly decreases as the warm water evaporates from their skin. This quick cool-down speeds up the process for your brain to fall asleep.
A sauna works the same way. Your body is heated up by the infrared radiation, and once you leave the sauna, it rapidly cools down. The end result is a cool body that’s primed for sleep.
2. Calm and relaxation
Perhaps better than anyone else, insomniacs know how difficult it is to fall asleep when you’re anxious, nervous, worried, or otherwise wound up. It’s no wonder that insomnia and anxiety disorders often go hand-in-hand.
Even people without anxiety enjoy saunas for their ability to induce a calming sense of relaxation in their practitioners. By using an infrared sauna before bed, you calm your body and mind, making it easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. A calmer mind sleeps better for longer than a restless one.
If you make a habit out of using infrared saunas, you’ll extend these calming benefits. For example, by consistently using an infrared sauna at night, you mentally train your brain to recognize it as part of a bedtime routine that ends with you falling asleep.
Even regular use of infrared saunas during your waking hours can be beneficial to your sleep. Just like yoga or any other relaxation practice, the consistency of practice alone makes becoming relaxed more accessible to you. You can boost the relaxation benefits of your infrared sauna time by pairing it with meditation or deep breathing exercises that also promote good sleep.
Will an infrared sauna help you sleep better?
Ultimately, the research is still out on whether infrared saunas definitively improve sleep (along with many of the other health benefits manufacturers claim in their marketing).
Researchers haven’t found any risks of infrared saunas. So if you enjoy using an infrared sauna, and it seems to make you sleep better, that’s what matters. Experts say 15-20 minutes is sufficient to enjoy the benefits.