Clearlight would like to remind users that this should not be taken as direct medical advice, and you should always consult a licensed health practitioner before making any significant changes to your lifestyle or existing pain treatment regimen. In the blog post, we referred to a clinical study that used a cabin sauna and measured its temperature to demonstrate the practical applications of using the sauna and the outcomes that were observed during the experiment. It is important to note that the benefits are not derived from the temperature of the sauna cabin itself, but rather from the increase in the body's core temperature, and the cabin temperature serves only as a means to raise the body temperature in a controlled manner for the purposes of the study. This fact is supported by peer-reviewed studies that outline specific requirements for duration, frequency and cabin temperature for the safe and effective use of a sauna.
15-20 minutes is recommended for your everyday sauna user to begin to feel and see some form of sauna mental health benefits. This is largely due to the cardiovascular system being activated during an infrared sauna session, which then activates the autonomic nervous system, and is followed by the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system also known as the 'rest & digest' state. However, for more serious mental disorders, such as major depressive disorder, and chronic anxiety, this may not suffice. In this blog, we will explore the sauna protocols used in any provided scientific literature on the topic of how long you should sauna for mental health benefits.
Do Infrared Saunas Help with Depression?
Yes, there is a broad and compelling body of evidence that suggests infrared saunas help with depression. Researchers designed an experiment that used 70 patients with major depressive disorders and sleep disorders, using far-infrared rays to test any changes to serotonin levels. The findings from the Harvard study were the basis of a randomized clinical trial to find the effectiveness of far infrared rays in stimulating serotonin production and MDA levels in depressed and insomniac patients. The protocol involved a 15-minute sauna session, twice a week for a 4-week period.
Authors of that trial wrote that: “serotonin increased and MDA decreased after the introduction of FIR,” adding that “these observations indicate that the serotonin pathway is involved in the pathophysiological mechanism responsible for the damaging effects of MDA on depressed patients with insomnia.”
The findings of this study indicate that far-infrared sauna therapy may offer an exciting, non-invasive therapeutic option for those suffering from mild depression. With the potential to increase serotonin levels and reduce MDA levels, patients may be able to achieve improved mental health with repeated sauna therapy.
Infrared Saunas Effects on Depression Symptoms
While the above study showcases both the physiological and psychological benefits of frequent sauna bathing on the production of serotonin and MDA levels in the body, another study further supports these findings through milder symptoms.
A Japanese study found that frequent passive heat therapy improved the symptoms of mildly depressed patients, specifically the loss of appetite. Patients found that general depression and appetite loss were improved after 15-minute sauna sessions at 60ºC, 5 days a week, for a total of 20 sessions over a 4-week period.
This study further shines a light on the different mechanisms by that heat therapy and infrared sauna therapy can positively impact a person's symptoms of mild depression. This reference to a clinical study that used a cabin sauna in conjunction with temperature measurement to showcase the practical applications of saunas and the resulting benefits. Note that the temperature of the sauna cabin is not what creates the benefits, but rather it is used to increase the core temperature of the body in a controlled environment.
Sauna Bathing Effects on Psychotic Disorders
While it might not come as a big surprise that a sauna bath can be helpful in reducing the day-to-day stresses of modern life, you might not have guessed just how profoundly they can improve our psyche.
A prospective population-based study conducted by researchers at the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease aimed to assess the association of the frequency of sauna bathing with the risk of psychosis.
The results showed that men who had 4-7 sauna sessions per week had a 78% reduced risk of developing psychotic disorders compared to those who only had 1 session per week. This association was independent of other potential confounders such as age, total energy intake, socioeconomic status, physical activity and C-reactive protein levels.
These findings suggest that frequent sauna bathing sessions may be beneficial in reducing the risk of developing psychotic disorders. These studies show that typical sauna bathing habits can positively affect psychosis, depression, anxiety and low mood, despite varying in severity, complexity of symptoms and mechanisms.
Sauna Bathing for Depression Benefits: A New Approach to Treat Major Depressive Disorder
Whole-body hyperthermia (WBH) has recently emerged as a promising non-pharmacologic approach to treating major depressive disorder (MDD). WBH involves exposing the body to far infrared heat from an infrared sauna device.
This treatment is based on the hypothesis that heating the body increases blood flow, which in turn may lead to improved brain function and mood. Clinical studies have found that WBH can be effective in reducing symptoms of MDD when combined with psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy. It may even be a viable alternative for those who are resistant to traditional treatments or looking for additional approaches to managing their condition.
In a recent study, researchers sought to evaluate the potential of sauna bathing as a treatment for MDD. The study involved 25 healthy adults who completed a single WBH session lasting up to 110 minutes in a Clearlight Sauna Dome. All participants achieved the target core body temperature (38.5°C) and it took an average of 82.12 minutes (with a range of 61-110 minutes) to reach this temperature.
After conducting exploratory analyses to measure changes in mood and affect, the researchers discovered a tangible decrease in depression symptoms and negative emotions among participants from one week prior to their participation in whole-body hyperthermia through one-week post-WBH.
In conclusion, this study has provided evidence that whole-body hyperthermia using a sauna has the potential to be an effective treatment for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The results of this research support previous studies which suggest that WBH can help reduce depression symptoms, and indicate that it may be a safe and potentially cost-effective alternative to traditional pharmacological or psychotherapeutic treatments.
Protocol for Whole-Body Hyperthermia (WBH) for Depression Benefits:
Equipment: Clearlight Infrared Sauna Dome
Participants: 25 healthy adults.
Session duration: Up to 110 minutes.
Target core body temperature: 38.5°C
Procedure: Participants will enter the sauna dome and relax while WBH is initiated. Core body temperature will be assessed rectally during the session. Participants will remain in the sauna dome until the target core body temperature of 38.5°C is achieved and maintained for two consecutive minutes.
Mood and affect assessments: Participants will be asked to complete self-reported assessments of mood and affect before and after the WBH session.
Monitoring: Participants should be monitored for adverse events throughout the WBH session.
Conclusion: Participants will achieve the target core body temperature of 38.5°C and the results will show a reduction in self-reported depression symptoms and negative affect from pre- to post-WBH session. This WBH protocol holds promise for further assessment of WBH as a treatment for major depressive disorder.
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Why Saunas are Good for Managing Anxiety
Since the dawn of civilization, humans have connected with nature in various ways. Before roads and vehicles, we explore barefoot trails and drank from fresh and mineral-dense rivers. Before supermarkets, we harvest fruits from untamed gardens and filled our lungs with unpolluted air.
These natural interactions can still help promote our physical, mental and creative well-being today. In fact, science has now identified four 'elements', which are considered to be influential factors in terms of human health—Fire, Water, Earth, and Air.
Each element is associated with potential solutions to improve mental wellness that can be experienced both indoors and outdoors. For instance, visiting a sauna (Fire), participating in hydrotherapy (Water), going for a walk or hike through nature (Earth) and engaging in oxygen-rich activities such as yoga or mindful breathing exercises (Air) have all been linked to physiological responses that promote well-being and longevity.
All of these activities bring balance to the mind and body by further connecting us to our environment and its unique gifts. With better awareness of how humankind interacts with its surrounding world—and simple remedies at its disposal—individuals everywhere may find improved health through rekindling their relationship with nature’s elements.
Near-infrared Light Treatment for Anxiety
Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry published research in 2009 that aimed to answer the question of whether or not the psychological status of a patient could be improved with near-infrared light treatment, which is remarkably similar to the conditions that you’ll find inside a full spectrum sauna.
Researchers not only wanted to observe the correlation between the treatment and psychological progress, but they also sought to illustrate that increased circulation in the front of the brain had no adverse effects.
Their results were staggering. Of the ten patients that took part in the study, after a period of two weeks, the authors noted that the patients had: “experienced highly significant reductions in both HAM-D (depression) and HAM-A (anxiety) scores following treatment, with the greatest reductions occurring at 2 weeks.”
Six out of the ten patients saw their level of measured depression decrease, while seven out of the ten saw their anxiety levels decrease. These figures led the authors to write in their conclusion that the treatment: “may have utility for the treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders,” while noting that “we observed no side effects.”
The study consisted of 4-minute random treatments of near-infrared light application to the left of the forehead, to the right of the forehead, and also a placebo treatment with no light. Results were recorded at the 2-week and 4-week marks.
Sauna Bathing Sessions Mimic Exercise
Exercise is a well-documented suitable treatment for anxiety, and shares many similarities reflected in infrared sauna use.
The health benefits of sauna bathing have been detailed in a recent study of 50-year-old participants, all with at least one cardiovascular risk factor. Using modern medical techniques and monitoring, data were collected before, immediately after, and 30 minutes after a single 30-minute sauna session.
The results were more than surprising; they showed a significant reduction in pulse wave velocity and blood pressure as well as mean arterial pressure and left ventricular ejection time. Even more encouraging, the changes resulting from the sauna bath were sustained during the recovery phase.
The extreme heat from the infrared heaters raised the patient's core body temperature to induce a deep sweat. Infrared waves easily penetrate human tissue, unlike conventional heat from traditional saunas, targeting muscle soreness, removing toxins, supporting blood pressure and improving blood circulation.
This indicates that there are some real cardiovascular benefits to sauna bathing beyond just its use for pleasure - it could help to reduce the risk of vascular diseases such as stroke or heart attack.
This new information points to a potential preventative measure we can incorporate into our lives for improved cardiovascular health other than regular exercise. Sauna bathing could be an ideal activity for those looking for something enjoyable but also beneficial to support long-lasting health problems and health conditions.
Although the data to support infrared saunas' efficacy against anxiety disorders is slim, some studies suggest that it could be an effective and accessible treatment alternative. The takeaway here is clear - finding a way to incorporate physical activity into our daily lives, coupled with an infrared sauna, can be massively beneficial for our overall mental well-being.
How long should you Sauna for Mental Health Benefits?
According to the studies referenced in this blog, how long you should sit in a sauna for the mental health benefits have been shown to result in as little as 15-minute sauna sessions. However, what is also evident is that the biggest mental health benefits come from frequent sauna therapy, with a minimum of 4 times a week being the sweet spot for improved mental clarity and mood.
For more severe mental health issues, the studies support the idea that reaching the core-body temperature to 38.5°C for as little as two minutes has profound effects on depression. However, in this study, it took an average of 82 minutes for participants to reach that temperature.
Does An Infrared Sauna Lower Your Cortisol Levels?
Cortisol is a hormone released by our body in times of stress, which gives us an added boost of energy and even concentration to navigate potentially dangerous situations. Over-exposure to cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone, can lead to chronic health conditions.
You’ll be glad to know, then, that spending time inside an infrared sauna can actually help to reduce your cortisol levels.
Sauna bathing induces hormonal changes by a few simple factors, the first of which involves added blood flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain that helps provide a more stable form of homeostasis that can reduce cortisol levels.
Secondly, the simple act of a wellness routine, like spending time in a sauna, can provide enough relaxation for users to enter a near-meditative state, which helps to refocus the mind and eliminate trivial sources of stress.
How Does Anxiety Impact Our Body?
Whether it’s stress stemming from our jobs, our relationships or other external factors, stress, unfortunately, finds a way to impact all aspects of our health in a significant way.
When we become stressed, our bodies release cortisol, which is an important regulator of blood pressure that also kicks in as a survival instinct of sorts, giving our body an added hit of energy to address the stressful situation we’re facing.
Even without a source of stress, small releases of cortisol help our minds concentrate on important issues, and are completely normal.
Repeated and prolonged releases of cortisol, on the other hand, have a huge number of negative impacts on our bodies. Everything from your reproductive, digestive, immune and even nervous systems.
This manifests into several adverse health outcomes like headaches, insomnia, high blood sugar and blood pressure, fertility problems, low sex drive, muscle pains, missed periods and increased depression; the latter of which creates a negative cycle that can be difficult to break.
This was a central theme in a recent article written by Anna Lavdaras and published in Body & Soul, who writes from the outset that “all of the self-doubts just sweat out of me,” after spending time inside a Clearlight® Sanctuary Sauna.
Anna was living a stressful professional lifestyle, compounded by the fact she was organising a large wedding all by herself. She writes that a friend invited her to an infrared sauna session at Wildfire Wellness in Maroubra, Sydney, which is owned by sisters Larissa and Caitlin Stores.
She said, “during your sauna session, as sweat production increases and your body temperature begins to rise, your blood vessels dilate and your heart works harder to pump blood around your body, increasing blood flow and boosting circulation - similar to the benefits of continuous exercise”.
Sister Larissa continued to explain that “regular sauna users report feeling calmer and more capable of handling stressful situations due to a decrease in the production of cortisol, our stress hormone, and boost in our happy hormones, dopamine and serotonin.”
The stressed-out author of the article, Anna writes that after her initial session, she was returning to Wildfire Wellness three times per week, where she reported significant psychological improvements. “I started sleeping better, recovering better and feeling better,” she writes. “I can speak only from my personal experience - these sessions were my oasis.”
What are other Health Benefits of Saunas?
Anxiety and depression are only two of the benefits that heat exposure from frequent sauna baths can provide to promote mental well-being. Other infrared sauna sessions and hot Finnish sauna bathing benefits include:
Reduction in several risk factors associated with Cardiovascular Disease
Joint and Muscle Pain
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and other autoimmune diseases
Pain Relief from Arthritis
Studies have shown that sauna bathing can be an effective treatment for conditions like hypertension, congestive heart failure, post-myocardial infarction care, COPD, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and addiction.
There is also evidence that the detoxification benefits of infrared saunas (or purification) - such as Waon therapy - can be helpful for those with environmentally-induced illnesses.
The main difference between traditional saunas and infrared saunas is that a traditional sauna operates with heating from a wood-burning stove or an electric heater to heat the air around the body. Another form of heating by a traditional sauna is what's known as traditional steam saunas, where steam is used to heat the wood-based room.
Infrared saunas use low-temperature infrared heat to heat the body directly. The lower temperatures inside an infrared sauna allow patients to sauna longer and help to re-energise. Infrared heat penetrates deeper than traditional saunas to provide further benefits.
Current health research suggests that both traditional and infrared sauna bathing habits are generally safe, and when used alongside exercise and dietary changes, many people have experienced powerful results to maintain mental health and improve mental disorders.
To bring it back to the Body & Soul feature story above, Larissa Stores explains that they’ve noticed numerous health benefits in clients visiting their wellness centre. She said, “sweating regularly can result in an improvement in the functionality of your detoxification pathways and assist with the removal of built-up toxins and waste.” She went on to add, “the deep sweat produced in an infrared sauna not only removes these toxins and waste products from the body but also purifies the skin, improving tone and elasticity, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, leaving you with a post-sauna glow.”
Concluding the Benefits of Infrared Saunas for Mental Wellbeing
Sauna use can help reduce the day-to-day stresses of modern life, including anxiety and mental illness. A growing body of medical evidence suggests that infrared saunas can help combat anxiety and give users a platform to reduce their stress levels. The benefits of addressing sources of stress and treating the impact of severe anxiety include improved sleep, decreased depression, and increased concentration. You can read more about the infrared sauna health benefits here.
If you're interested in an infrared sauna for home take a look at our range of full-spectrum saunas, far-infrared saunas, and outdoor saunas.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed in your life, don’t forget that there is a huge number of resources out there to support you. Please contact Lifeline at 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636.
Infrared Sauna Health Benefits
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