Saunas have been used for thousands of years to improve health.
The practice of using heat for therapeutic purposes has many proven benefits.
In this article, we’ll discuss ways to make your sauna treatment more effective, including adding an innovative approach: red light therapy.
The SaunaMAX Pro is the first red light therapy device for in-sauna use.
Sauna Treatment Guidelines
Get the maximum health benefits from regular sauna use with these guidelines, which apply to both traditional saunas and infrared saunas.
Prepare Your Body
Whether you're doing a Finnish sauna or an infrared sauna session, it helps to drink a glass of water before you enter the sauna to prevent dehydration. It is not recommended to drink alcohol or use recreational drugs before or during a sauna session.
We also don’t recommend eating a large meal before sauna use. Part of the goal of the treatment is to stimulate your body’s healing process, which will slow down if the body is also busy digesting.
If you’ve just had a workout, take a quick shower before using the sauna room for a fresher experience. The best sauna experience is in the nude, but you can also wrap yourself in a clean towel, or wear a swimsuit if you’ll be alternating sauna use with a cold water plunge.
Where to Sit
You can sit or lie down in a sauna. In an infrared sauna, it doesn't matter where you sit. It will help to set the heat at a safe level if you are a beginner.
In traditional saunas, the heat is typically more intense when your back is against the wall. This is also true if you’re closer to the rocks or a heater, or if you choose the highest available platform for seating.
To make the experience less intense, move further from the heat source, lie down on the bench, choose a lower seating platform, or even sit on the sauna floor, if you like.
Length of a Sauna Session
Beginners should start with shorter sauna sessions. This would likely be for five to ten minutes. Experienced sauna users may enjoy Finnish or infrared saunas for longer sessions of 10 to 20 minutes. If you are doing multiple sauna sessions with cool-down breaks in between, you can do up to three sessions, with each lasting 10-20 minutes.
It’s important to stop if you don’t feel well, if you’re dizzy or lightheaded, if you're sleepy, or if you feel overheated. This is especially if your session is unsupervised.
Best Time of Day for Sauna Treatment
Saunas are a wonderful way to de-stress after a busy day. Infrared sauna sessions are soothing and relaxing. If you’re doing several traditional sauna sessions with cool-downs in between, you may feel invigorated during the experience. This is due to the shock of temperature extremes.
However, once you’ve cooled down, your body may be ready for bed!
Frequency of Sauna Use
You can use a traditional sauna or an infrared sauna several times a week. Some people enjoy daily sauna use.
Cool-Down from Sauna Use
To let the body cool down gently, take a cold shower and hydrate. For a more intense traditional cool-down, do a cold plunge or simply stand outdoors if it’s cold outside! You can do this to finish the session, or before re-entering the sauna.
Most people will limit sauna sessions to four per day, with cold plunges or cool-down breaks in between. Be sure to stay hydrated during sauna use and to cool down afterward with a shower and some drinking water.
Cold Plunge and Sauna: Is it Recommended?
Using cold-plunge just after getting out of the sauna is an invigorating experience. It is also said to improve longevity. But has it actually been proven to be good for you? Though studies are few, anecdotal evidence suggests that regular sauna use may contribute to longevity.
However, dramatic temperature extremes are not advisable if you are pregnant or have a heart condition.
Sauna Optimization for Specific Goals
Traditional saunas have a range of health benefits. Hyperthermia stimulates several beneficial processes in the body. This section details several ways to optimize specific treatment outcomes by using a traditional sauna.
Heat Shock Proteins
Heat shock proteins are produced by the body in response to thermal stress. They strengthen healthy cells and reduce inflammation, which can speed up healing.
Thermal stress can trigger some of the same physiological responses that occur during exercise. Since people with injuries or osteoarthritis find it difficult to exercise, sauna use may be a way to induce healing. This takes place through heat shock proteins.
Endocrine System Benefits
Sauna sessions promote changes in hormone levels, including increased concentrations of the growth hormone (HGH) and endorphins.
Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
Sauna sessions can improve insulin sensitivity, which may potentially hold promise in treating diabetes. Heat shock proteins boost nitric oxide (NO) which is a vasodilator that promotes blood flow. NO is also linked to reduced insulin resistance. Research suggests that sauna therapy also supports weight loss and may be used to treat obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Even if you’ve long passed your teenage years, variations in hormone levels can have serious effects on the body. Various hormone levels undergo significant changes during a sauna session. Sauna use can bring growth hormones, testosterone, and cortisol to healthy, balanced levels.
Long before modern technology, people have turned to the sauna for its health and longevity benefits. It turns out that this is actually true! By reducing the risk of certain diseases as well as improving the immune system, frequent sauna sessions can actually improve your health and increase your lifespan.
Hypertension and Heart Disease
Sauna bathing may reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases including high blood pressure and heart disease. This is by promoting blood vessel dilation and softening the stiffness of arterial walls which enables healthy blood flow.
Many athletes take a sauna bath to help their bodies rest and recover, especially after intense exercise. Saunas increase the blood plasma volume which promotes faster muscle recovery. This suggests that regular sauna use could be a valuable part of your exercise program.
Of course, weight loss often results from a combination of healthy diet and exercise. However, sauna bathing several times a week gives much better weight loss results.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease. For those with COPD brought on by genetics, smoking, pollution, or allergies, saunas help open up the lungs and help COPD patients breathe easier.
In one case, four to seven sauna bathing sessions per week significantly reduced the risk of strokes in middle-aged men and women. This is likely because heat helps dilate blood vessels and makes blood vessel walls more elastic, which helps prevent obstructions.
Sauna sessions can relieve headaches, though they may not work for all types of headaches, including those caused by dehydration.
Saunas improve blood flow throughout the body. They are also a major pain reliever for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. They also help increase flexibility and ease of movement.
Chronic pain afflicts many people. Saunas are an effective treatment for chronic pain. For example, fibromyalgia is a painful illness that benefits from regular sauna use.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease
Regular sauna sessions can dramatically reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This is likely due to the increased benefits to the cardiovascular system and the neuroprotective effect of heat shock proteins. Heat shock proteins also prevent the abnormal protein activity characteristic of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
Sauna for Colds, Flu, COVID-19, and Pneumonia
Sauna bathing while you have a cold, flu, or COVID-19 can shorten the duration and severity of your illness by opening up the breathing passages and stimulating the immune system.
The COVID-19 virus is known to be heat-sensitive. Finnish sauna treatments can destroy these viruses at temperatures that are still tolerable to humans. In essence, the sauna mimics fever which is the body’s way of using thermal damage to kill viruses. This effect is not as pronounced in infrared saunas, which use lower temperatures.
Frequent saunas may reduce the risk of other respiratory diseases including pneumonia.
Sauna Treatment for Bone Health/Muscle Mass
In a study of healthy young men who received 12 high-temperature sauna baths, researchers claim that frequent sauna use could promote better body composition. In this case, muscle mass, bone mineral density, and bone mineral content increased after regular sauna sessions.
A sauna before bed can help you get a good night’s sleep. Between warming the body and relaxing the muscles, this can help reduce any stress you’re holding on to, relieve pain, and ease emotional distress.
Sauna Treatment for Skin Health
Saunas are great for your skin, especially if your skin is dry or if you have acne. Saunas may also have a protective effect on skin physiology. This could balance the skin’s surface pH, making it less susceptible to acne-causing bacterial infection, while increasing the skin's water-holding capacity.
Sauna Safety Guidelines
Be sure to limit use to 10-15 minutes at a time to prevent thermal damage to your cells. A Finnish sauna and an infrared sauna will raise your body temperature by several degrees. Heat-sensitive cells such as those in the eyes and testes, could be harmed by prolonged use.
Despite their many health benefits, saunas are not safe for everyone.
- Avoid using a sauna for longer than five minutes if you have a heart condition
- Do not use saunas if you are pregnant or if you’re a man trying to start a family
- Do not use saunas if you are on medications that make you drowsy
Red Light Therapy with the SaunaMAX Pro
If you want to enjoy maximum benefits, we recommend adding red light therapy to your sauna use. First, a little clarification.
Infrared saunas use far infrared radiation to create thermal stress in the cells. These warm your body from the inside. Finnish saunas warm the body from the outside.
If you already have a home sauna, whether it's a Finnish sauna or an infrared sauna, you can add a SaunaMAX Pro to get the extra benefits of red light therapy.
This waterproof and temperature-resistant red light therapy device can be used in a traditional or infrared sauna to boost circulation even more without creating more thermal stress.
Red light therapy reduces inflammation, reduces pain, protects neurons, stimulates nervous system health, treats chronic skin disorders, boosts collagen production, and most importantly, stimulates cellular energy production.
Emerging evidence and research suggests the benefits of saunas and photobiomodulation therapy go far beyond pleasure and relaxation. When these two natural therapies are combined the body experiences biological health effects from both the heat induced by a sauna and also from the SaunaMAX Pro's six different ultra-high power therapeutic wavelengths.
Functional Medicine Doctor of Physical Therapy, Dr. Alayna Newton, PT, DPT, FAFS
With the SaunaMAX Pro, you get the benefits of red light therapy any time you want. And you never have to decide between red light therapy and a sauna if you're short on time!