The Ultimate Guide to Far Infrared Sauna Health Benefits
As a former insomnia sufferer, I used to spend evenings afraid. As early as 4 or 5 p.m., a fear would set in—would I be able to sleep that night? This was five years ago, and back then I was stressed, battling a number of health issues, including high blood pressure and being overweight. The single most frustrating issue in my life, however, was my insomnia.
Then I tried my first infrared sauna. I slept like a baby that night (as I still do after every infrared sauna session). In the months and years that have followed, I’ve continued a steady routine of infrared sauna therapy, and I’ve learned much more about the different ways these types of saunas benefit the body. I’d like to share some of the broader strokes with you.
How an Infrared Sauna Affects Metabolism
If you know anything about infrared saunas you likely know that the basic goal is to make you sweat by sending infrared light waves–which your body experiences as heat–into the tissues of your body. In order to sweat, your heart must pump at a faster rate, sending more oxygenated blood throughout your body and burning more of the energy you’ve stored from food and rest. This energy burn is a boosted metabolism, and there are many health benefits that come from putting your body into such a state.
- Weight Loss: Weight loss is one of the most common reasons people look into saunas, at least initially, and I always assure them that weight loss is a near certainty with regular use of an infrared sauna. The human body’s metabolic rate is tied directly to cardiovascular exercise, rising when you perform activities such as swimming, jogging, or playing sports. Even after exercise, a human’s metabolism stays boosted for long periods of time. This is also true of using an infrared sauna.
A study done at Binghamton University found that using an infrared sauna three times a week can reduce body fat by about 4 percent over 4 months. For someone who weighs 175 pounds, that comes out to a 7 pound loss, and in this study participants did not change their diet or exercise habits at all. The researchers hypothesized that increasing the body’s temperature and metabolism in an infrared sauna elevated human growth hormone production, which helps the body break down fat.
I always tell folks looking to lose weight to be sure to drink plenty of water before and after use of the sauna, which will help speed up their metabolisms even more, and will also result in their craving water where they once reached for coffee, soda, or alcohol.
- Injury Recovery: Infrared sauna users who have recently suffered certain kinds of injuries may also experience faster recovery times. Joint injury sufferers are generally warned to avoid infrared saunas for at least 48 hours following trauma, but those who have suffered bone fractures or muscle injuries should embrace it. The light absorbed by cells during use of an infrared sauna has been shown to stimulate the metabolism in muscle and bone.
NASA is conducting research right now to determine if the light emitted by LEDs, as well as that of infrared saunas, would help its astronauts and military personnel recover faster from injuries, particularly if they don’t have regular exposure to natural sunlight. Their studies have found that light therapy, and speeding up metabolism in bone and muscle, can help to prevent the atrophy to these parts of the body, and can increase the rate of wound healing in an environment without gravity. Basically, NASA is confirming to be true in the laboratory what infrared saunas users have been feeling all along.
As I mentioned above, the sweating brought on by the heat from an infrared sauna causes your heart to pump at a faster rate. With more beats per minute, your blood vessels vasodilate, or widen, and more blood moves at a faster rate through the vessels and capillaries beneath the skin. This is an incredible boost to the circulation of blood throughout your body. Since circulation is so important to carry oxygen, infection-fighting cells, nutrients, and hormones around the body, this increased circulation can improve numerous health conditions. It can benefit heart health, blood pressure, cortisol levels, stress, and even cause pain relief.
- Blood Pressure and Heart Health: I had to take medication for high blood pressure before I began using infrared saunas, and I can tell you that suffering from high blood pressure is frightening. If left untreated, high blood pressure can cause heart failure, heart attacks, kidney disease, stroke, and vision loss.
On a more practical level, bad heart health and poor circulation can cause numbness or an irritating cold feeling in your toes and hands, as well as regular headaches. The benefits of improving your blood circulation and pressure include improved cell growth and organ function, which will have you feeling generally healthier and more energetic.
- Cortisol Levels and Stress: If you’ve had the heart-pounding experience of speaking in front of a large group of people, you know about fight or flight mode. Stress makes your body go into this mode, releasing adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. But it doesn’t take public speaking for these hormones to hurt your body. Prolonged lower levels of stress cause a constant release of cortisol and adrenaline into your body that is harmful, potentially damaging your immune system, causing you to retain more fat cells, and leaving you prone to depression and insomnia.
I know from experience that lack of sleep can damage your health in so many different ways. It decreases brain function and weakens your immune system. If you’re serious about staying in shape, sleep is also the time when your body rebuilds the muscles you worked out on a given day, helping you recover and get stronger more quickly.
Infrared saunas remove your body from flight or fight mode. Inside an infrared sauna, the body relaxes, blood vessels dilate, and the user feels as if he or she has just finished a workout. For me, that feeling of relaxation generally lasts all day and into the night, helping me to sleep so much better. My own personal trick is to take a very hot shower right after using a sauna, which helps to lull my body into some of the best sleep I’ve ever had.
- Pain Relief: I know many people whose chronic pain has faded since starting regular infrared sauna use. Infrared saunas relieve pain by producing heat that penetrates joints, muscles, tissues, and nerve endings. They also stimulate the production of additional white blood cells, which alleviate inflammation. Many health experts have come to consider inflammation the underlying cause of many ailments and health conditions. The increased circulation caused by infrared saunas brings healthy, oxygenated blood to whatever area of the body is in need, reducing inflammation.
Detoxification means removing toxic substances from the body, such as drugs, pollutants, preservatives, pesticides, heavy metals, and poison, among other things. Detoxification, I’ve found, is one of the main reasons people become interested in infrared saunas. Saunas do a good job of detoxification by “vibrating” water inside your cells, helping it move out of the cell and then out of the body–taking toxins with it.
If left inside your body, these toxins can interact with enzymes and confuse cells in a way that keeps them from functioning normally. Documented illnesses stemming from toxicity include cancer, leukemia, liver disease, cardiovascular damage, anemia, nervous system disorders, kidney dysfunction, and reproductive impairment. Besides the potential to improve and prevent these health problems, detoxification can also benefit your appearance by affecting your skin.
- Skin: I didn’t start using an infrared sauna to improve my skin, but it’s been an amazing bonus. After using an infrared sauna, your skin becomes highly permeable as the blood vessels dilate and more blood comes to the surface to cool your body. Millions of sweat glands are activated, and these release and empty to your skin’s surface, purging heavy metals and other toxins from your skin layers. This purification process leaves your skin looking healthier, smoother, clearer, and softer.
- Fatigue/Illness Prevention: Our everyday environments–like the smog and exhaust fumes I breathe in on my way to work–cause toxins to accumulate in the body that can combine with other disease-causing factors. On a daily basis, toxins can weaken your immune system and leave you more susceptible to illness, as well as fatigue. If the cells in your body are not reproducing and functioning properly, all manner of routine tasks can become more difficult, leading to exhaustion that you would not otherwise suffer. When detoxified, these cells function better, leading to more energy and a general feeling of health.
Can an Infrared Sauna Improve Your Life?
Well, it really depends. Maybe you don’t have issues with things like high blood pressure, insomnia, fatigue, or stress. If that’s the case, investing in an infrared sauna may not make a huge change in your life. However, if many of the symptoms above seem painfully familiar, I’d highly recommend at least testing an infrared sauna for a week or two.
Take it from me, there’s no reason to go on living like a sleepless zombie, struggling to exercise because of nagging body aches. There’s a broad range of potential benefits from infrared saunas, but in my experience those benefits all work together. The end result of regular infrared sauna use is the improvement of many separate facets of life that add up to an overall better quality of life.