Sauna use is a centuries old practice. What first started as a way to keep warm from the frigid cold winters in Finland thousands of years ago has become a cornerstone in the world of natural health and wellness. Everyone from professional athletes to regular gym-goers to individuals who just want to relax and unwind, use saunas on a regular basis, and for good reason – heat therapy provides a host of tremendous benefits and are an excellent way to improve physical and mental wellness, naturally.
While it’s true that sauna use isn’t new, what is new is the technologies that have been developed for saunas; namely, infrared saunas. In fact, near infrared sauna use has become a big trend in recent years. While infrared saunas and traditional saunas function similarly and ultimately share the same objective – they’re spaces that are equipped with heating elements that increase body temperature to support and improve physical and mental health and wellness – how they differ is the manner in which they heat up the surrounding space and the body (more on that in a bit).
Not only are the relaxing, but there’s a long list of infrared sauna health benefits. After spending just 15 to 30 minutes in an infrared sauna, you’ll come out feeling lighter and uplifted. How do infrared saunas work? What type of benefits do they offer? What can you expect during a session? To find the answers to these questions and more, keep on reading.
What is an infrared sauna, anyway?
So, what is an infrared sauna? As we noted above, it’s essentially the same as traditional sauna, meaning that it’s a box, space, chamber, or room (any of these words would be appropriate) that is lined with wood (usually cedar) and it’s outfitted with built-in benches or seats, as well as a heating element. The last part of that description – the heating element – is where infrared saunas and traditional saunas differ.
Whereas traditional saunas (also known as dry saunas or wet saunas) rely on wood-burning, gas, or electric stoves, which are topped with rocks, and the fire or electric element heats the pile of rocks. The heat generated by the stove, of course, heats up the wooden room. Water can be drizzled on top of the rocks to add humidity to the air, too.
Infrared saunas, on the other hand, use infrared light waves to heat the body. Infrared waves are narrow bands of light that are naturally produced by the sun and are responsible for creating the sun’s warming effect. These saunas are outfitted with ceramic and/or carbon heaters to emit infrared waves, recreating the warming sensation that you feel when you are in the sun.
Infrared vs traditional sauna
As discussed, infrared and traditional saunas share the same objective, which is to heat up the body. Traditional saunas, however, use convection to warm the air around you (similar to the way an oven heats food), while the narrow band of light that infrared saunas emit are absorbed by objects that have high moisture content, like your skin, muscles, and connective tissues, and thus, heat you as opposed to the air around you.
Because of the way infrared saunas work, they don’t get as hot as traditional saunas. A standard sauna can reach temperatures as high as 200 degrees F, while an infrared sauna reaches about 150 degrees F, which makes this type of heat therapy more comfortable and ideal for people who don’t tolerate heat wall. Additionally, the air in an infrared sauna is drier than the air in a traditional sauna, which can be very humid, further adding to the comfort level. The lower temperature and humidity levels in an infrared sauna do not detract from the benefits of heat therapy; in fact, infrared saunas offer a number of benefits.
Benefits of infrared sauna
While the benefits of infrared sauna aren’t as well-understood and documented as the benefits that traditional saunas provide, as the technology is relatively new and is still being studied, preliminary findings from the studies that have been conducted have determined that there are several infrared sauna benefits; some of the most notable of which include:
- Improved skin health
- Increased metabolism
- Weight loss support
- Immune system strengthening
- Improved heart health
- Reduced cellulite
- Reduced inflammation
- Relief from aches and pains
- Mood enhancement
- Improved sleep
Things to know before an infrared sauna session
After searching for “infrared sauna nearby”, “infrared sauna pod near me”, “infrared sauna spa near me”, or any other similar search term, once you’ve found a sauna and booked an appointment, to maximize and get the most out of your experience, it’s important to prepare yourself.
Here’s a look at some handy tips that you should keep in mind to help you get the most out of your infrared sauna session:
- Stay hydrated. Make sure that you keep yourself hydrated. Because infrared saunas create dry heat and that heat is absorbed by the body, they do pose a risk of dehydration. To avoid issues, make sure you drink plenty before, during, and after your session. Bring a big bottle of cold water into the sauna with you and sip on it throughout the duration of your heat therapy session.
- Avoid alcohol. Steer clear of alcohol. Alcohol is very dehydrating on its own, so drinking before using an infrared sauna can spell disaster. Obviously, you don’t want to head into the sauna while you’re under the influence, but you should also avoid happy hour the day before your session, too.
- Sit up straight. To reap the many benefits that heat therapy via an infrared sauna provides, make sure you sight up straight. You want your body to absorb as much of the infrared waves as possible, and by sitting straight – or even standing – straight, the waves will hit more of your body, and your body will absorb more of the heat. Relaxation is, no doubt, one of the primary reasons why you’re planning on using a sauna and sighting straight or standing up may not be super-comfortable, so to ensure you absorb as much heat as possible without taking away from the relaxation factor, try lying down on your back and make sure that your torso, legs, and arms are exposed.