By Sarah Sarway
Suddenly all of your health-savvy BFFs are skipping happy hour in favor of evening infrared sauna sessions, right?
Compared to the standard sauna, which dates back almost 2,000 years, infrared saunas are new and trendy, and devotees say the invisible light is able to deeply penetrate tissues and kick up the level of detoxification, increasing the muscle-soothing and happiness-boosting benefits. “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.
We’ll be taking a look at the science of saunas, soon. In the meantime, if you’re a newbie and are thinking of trying one out, there’s no doubt that you’ll want to make the most of your time inside. (After all, carving out time to sit and sweat isn’t always easy!)
So, before you book your first session, review these need-to-know tips from the pros.
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,” explain Berlingeri. 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 in 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 three to five minutes for each color to get significant benefit,” Kaps says.
5. Embrace the iPhone 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,” says Berlingeri.
6. Make time for cool-down
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 five 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
“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
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.
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.