Suddenly all of your health-savvy BFFs are skipping happy hour in favor of evening infrared sauna sessions, right?
Newer and trendier than old-school saunas, infrared saunas are garnering acclaim for their detoxification abilities and much more.
“In a traditional sauna, the hot air heats your body and makes you sweat, whereas in an infrared sauna, your body absorbs the infrared heat,” explains Andy Kaps, president of manufacturer Clearlight Infrared, which supplies saunas for many popular spots.
Read on to find out what infrared saunas are all about, their benefits and eight tips for how to prepare before using one.
What Is an Infrared Sauna
Traditional saunas date back almost 2,000 years and work by heating the air around you so you sweat. Infrared saunas, on the other hand, work by using electromagnetic radiation to warm your body directly.
Devotees say the invisible light of infrared saunas is able to deeply penetrate tissues and kick up the level of detoxification, increasing the muscle-soothing and happiness-boosting benefits. The heat of infrared saunas boosts your body temperature by 2-3 degrees without the massive sweat sesh of a traditional sauna at a lower temp.
Benefits of Infrared Saunas
The benefits of an infrared sauna are similar to those of a traditional sauna. (Whether one is better is still up in the air as most studies look at one or the other, but don’t compare the two.)
In Finland, where sauna use is mainstream, a long-term study of middle-aged Finnish men found their risk of a cardiovascular episode dropped 23% for those who enjoyed a sauna session regularly (2-3 days a week). Other benefits of saunas include:
- Deeper sleep
- Weight loss
- Sore muscle relief
- Pain relief
- Improved circulation
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved cognitive function
According to a review in Alternative Medicine Review, “some individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic fatigue, chronic pain, or addictions also find benefit (from saunas).”
Research has also shown some positive benefits of heat therapy in improving cognitive function in the aging brain and, in turn, reducing the chances of Alzheimer’s Disease. (Can we get a hell yeah to that?!)
Are you ready to give infrared saunas a try? If so, check out these tips from industry pros before booking your first session. (Lots of people get to love them so much that they buy portable versions for their own homes as well! But that’s fodder for another article.)
8 Tips to Get the Most Out of an Infrared Sauna Session
1. Lay off the booze
Drinking before a visit is always a no-no. “Having too much alcohol the day before can make you feel extra dehydrated in a sauna,” explains Lauren Berlingeri, co-founder of New York City’s steamy sauna spot, Higher Dose.
2. Drink water, instead!
“Not drinking enough water is the most common mistake people make when visiting a sauna,” Berlingeri says. You’re going to sweat a lot, so hydration is crucial. “Treat a visit to the sauna like a sweaty workout, and make sure you are drinking more water than you would on a normal day.”
Kaps recommends a liter of water per session, some of which you should drink right before you step inside. “The rule of thumb is, if you are thirsty when you get out, you did not drink enough when you were in the sauna,” he says.
3. Sit up straight
While laying across the bench is totally fine (and relaxing!), Kaps recommends sitting up to really reap the benefits. This way the heaters will be directly aimed at the front and back of your body. “You want your body to absorb as much of the infrared as possible, so you want the infrared directly at your body core, both front and back.”
4. Feel the rainbow
You will probably notice a nifty little chromotherapy (or color therapy) guide showing the different color light options and their benefits. For example, green is a relaxation booster, while yellow is a stress-buster. Try to resist the urge to flick through all 12 color options during your session. Instead, “sit directly under the lights and allot 3-5 minutes for each color to get significant benefit,” Kaps says.
5. Embrace the phone ban
Smartphones are not allowed in infrared saunas, since the light and heat can really mess with the hardware. While some spots provide Netflix or live TV in their boxes, challenge yourself to forgo the distractions and embrace the digital detox. “I like to sit in there and meditate, and other times I like to lay down and relax,” Berlingeri says.
6. Make time for cool-down
Remember to get up slowly after a session and to watch for any lightheadedness. If you have high blood pressure or heart issues, get your physician’s clearance first before beginning any sauna treatments.
When scheduling your session, make sure you leave yourself enough time to get back to your core temp and wash away the sweat. “We recommend a 5- to 15-minute cool-down and a cold shower, depending on how long your session is,” Berlingeri says.
The shower is important because sweating is one of your body’s main natural detoxification processes, and you want to wash away all that stuff you sweated out so your skin doesn’t re-absorb it. Plus, “people tend to re-enter their daily hectic life without any transition,” Kaps says. Easing back in will help prolong the relaxation.
7. Wear loose-fitting clothing after
During a sauna session, you can wear what makes you most comfortable. Some people wear a bathing suit, others wrap themselves in a towel or robe. If your session is private, you can also opt for attending in your birthday suit!
Once the session is over, you’ll want to wear comfy clothes when possible.
“You may continue to sweat a bit after,” Berlingeri says. To avoid having to force a pair of tight jeans or compression leggings up your sweaty legs, opt for something loose, breathable and comfortable. Try packing a pair of wide-leg yoga pants, a cotton tee, and a loose sports bra.
8. Schedule your sessions based on your needs
How often you opt for a sauna session depends on your tolerance and needs. First-time users should start with a 10-15 minute session to see how you react. If all goes well, you can then begin adding time to each session until you reach the suggested max of 20-30 min. Just remember that more is not always better. Staying in any sauna too long can lead to dehydration.
If you’ve got sleep issues, an early evening sauna can really help you relax before bed. On the flip side, you can use an early morning visit to help you tackle the day ahead.
“For many people, using the infrared sauna in the morning helps them start their day better,” Kaps says.
As for how often to use a sauna: Most infrared sauna facilities recommend using the sauna 3-4 days a week, but that can vary based on your preference, tolerance and health. If one or two sessions a week seems right for you, then stick to that. If you’re healthy and tolerate them well, then you can go for more frequent visits, even daily.
Visiting the sauna while you’ve got your period is also a good idea. “It can help with menstrual cramps, as the infrared lights increase blood flow and circulation, while the heat melts away pain and discomfort,” Berlingeri says. Duly noted.