First, it’s important to understand that not all saunas are built the same. While many of them are great for optimizing wellness, infrared saunas have scientifically proven benefits. What makes infrared heat different from a traditional sauna is that it uses light to create heat1, rather than steam. This light warms your body directly, while steam-based saunas heat the air around you first, which in turn increases your body temperature. Infrared heat can also make the sauna experience more comfortable and personalized for those who have trouble in high heat temperatures that steam saunas can create.
Aside from the sheer feeling of sitting in an infrared sauna with nothing to do but, well, sit - those infrared lights are directly impacting some physiological processes in the body which can lead to a more relaxed state.
Saunas optimize the body’s physical response to stress
Per a review published in Experimental Gerontology, the body’s response to repeated sauna use causes a process called hormesis2. When this happens, the body overcompensates for mild environmental stress (in this case, the heat). And while you may think any stress is bad, in this instance it’s beneficial to your body and health. That’s because it sets off a chain reaction that helps repair cell damage and protects your body from larger stressors3 which would typically cause inflammation and cell damage. Think of it as a fire drill for your body, prepping it to be able to handle an emergency (aka, stress) when it arises.
Research published in the Journal of Human Kinetics looked at the effects of a single sauna on white blood cell count as well as cortisol levels in both athletes and untrained individuals. There were a few important findings to note. In subjects classified as athletes, they secreted less cortisol than the nonathlete group4 in response to the heat. As one of the main hormonal regulators of stress, decreasing cortisol in the body can help you relax and over time, can reduce that fight-or-flight sensation you feel in stressful situations.
This decrease in cortisol also increased neutrophils and eosinophils in the athlete group – white blood cells that help fight and ward off infection, viruses, and bacteria in the body. So, by regularly sitting in an infrared sauna (and OK fine, staying in shape doesn’t hurt in this scenario), you’re keeping cortisol levels stable and warding off inflammation. The end game? A little time relaxing in a sauna can lead to less stress and a stronger immune system, so you can stock away those sick days and use them for a vacation instead.
Stress can sometimes cause a temporary spike in blood pressure. Yet, if you deal with chronic stress, it may elevate your blood pressure longer. This can increase your risk of developing heart disease or experiencing a stroke. By being proactive about relaxing with regular sessions in an infrared sauna, you can prevent and even treat cardiovascular disease risk factors such as lowering your blood pressure.
A review published in Experimental Physiology found that lifelong sauna exposure is linked to a reduced cardiovascular disease risk5. The meta-analysis looked at 15 studies with heat exposure ranging from 30 to 90 minutes, with over 10-36 sessions. Heat therapy reduced blood pressure, including both systolic (the pressure caused by the heart contracting, pushing out blood) and diastolic (the pressure caused when the heart relaxes and fills with blood) blood pressure. Blood flow in the arteries also improved with sauna use, protecting heart health.
Separate research published in Circulation Journal found that repeated sauna treatment can even improve ventricular arrhythmias6 (abnormal heartbeats). This is because the heat from sauna therapy increases activity in the parasympathetic nervous system7 (PNS), which controls the body’s ability to relax. When PNS increases, it lowers the resting heart rate and regulates heart rate variability, promoting overall heart health.
Sometimes the idea of doing something that relaxes you may seem frivolous, or not the best use of your precious time. Let’s reframe that line of thinking. By investing in a Sunlighten infrared sauna to help with relaxation, you’re taking a little time out of your day to achieve overall wellness that may keep you heart disease-free and may even add years to your life.
Interested in finding the right sauna to help with relaxation? Check out all of your Sunlighten infrared sauna options here. Or, scroll to our “Which sauna is right for me?” quiz on our homepage to help narrow your choices down.