A good night’s sleep is one of the foundations of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s also something that eludes many people. Everyone is looking for a way to improve their sleep quality – could a visit to the sauna be the answer?
Regular sauna sessions can help improve the quality of your sleep because of the relationship between elevated temperatures and better sleep quality. This is achieved through the release of serotonin and endorphins, which relax and ready the body for sleep. It is also a more effective sleep aid than artificially introduced melatonin.
Keep reading to explore why sauna sessions have the potential to improve your sleep quality, plus any potential concerns you should be aware of.
Is it good to sauna before bed?
Sauna use has been shown to help improve relaxation, reduce inflammation, and generally promote better sleep quality. Choosing to sauna as part of your bedtime routine can help release the body’s natural pain relief hormones, loosen muscles, and regulate circadian rhythms.
Researchers have discovered a link between the high temperatures experienced in sauna use and the production of serotonin, which produces a feeling of well-being and calm. Your body uses serotonin to help make melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Together, this means that a sauna session before bed ensures that you’re relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep.
If you’ve ever tried a synthetic melatonin sleep aid, like Unisom, you may have experienced common side effects such as a headache or dry mouth. Using a sauna to help the body naturally produce its needed melatonin, is generally a more effective method.
Do saunas make you sleepy?
The research behind why saunas make you sleepy has to do with the biological effects the heat causes in your body.
Part of your body’s reaction to the sauna includes a release of endorphins that help you relax. Add the body’s natural heat response and most users will experience sleepiness, or at least better sleep quality.
When your internal temperature rises, the body has to work harder to bring it to homeostasis (balance). This process raises your heart rate and opens the blood vessels, allowing better circulation. The effect is stress relief, muscle relaxation, and the same type of fatigue experienced after a moderate workout.
Endorphins are also released during this cardiovascular response. These opioid neuropeptides act like a pain killer in the body and are also present when feeling the emotion of pleasure.
Can saunas cause insomnia?
Unfortunately, not every user will experience their perfect sleep after time in the sauna. Every person reacts differently to the effects of heat and increased heart rate.
Saunas may make it difficult to fall asleep or cause insomnia in some users. This may be due to the increased heart rate caused by the heat, or you may need additional time time cool off before drifting off to sleep.
Some studies have shown that increasing your heart rate too much, too close to bedtime, may interfere with sleep quality. Additionally, most people will only receive the benefits of improved sleep when they’ve given themselves enough time for the body to begin cooling down.
The sleeplessness that may accompany poor timing of your sauna session may be increased for those that try to force their circadian rhythms to correct with sleep aids, like Unisom.
What time of day is best for using the sauna?
The best time to use the sauna will depend on your lifestyle, habits, and physiological factors. Having said that, there is research to support what works best for most.
Scientific evidence supports that using a sauna in the morning can help you boost your performance during the day, stay more relaxed, and sharpen your focus. Those same endorphins that block pain and promote relaxation for optimal daytime efficiency can promote sleep when experienced at night.
The bottom line is that using a sauna produces health benefits whether you use it in the morning or the evening. It simply depends on what your desired outcome is.
What type of sauna is best to help you sleep?
While the research supports that all types of saunas can be great sleep aids, one type seems to stand out.
Infrared saunas may be the best to help you sleep as they are well tolerated by most, use lower temperatures to achieve results, and heat you from the inside out, rather than heating the air around you.
As mentioned earlier, raising your temperature and heart rate too high near bedtime may get less than optimal results. Choosing the right timing for your body, paired with the sauna that works best for you, can help your sleep, so toss that Unisom in the back of the medicine cabinet and enjoy your favorite sauna experience!
Traditional dry sauna and sleep
The Finnish traditional dry sauna has been used for thousands of years for relaxation, muscle recovery, socializing, and longevity.
The most traditional dry saunas used fire to produce heat, but modern versions generally use electric heaters. Some moisture may be introduced by pouring small amounts of water over heated rocks, but the sauna generally has less than 10% humidity.
The air around your body is heated in a traditional sauna and can range in temperature from about 150° to 180°F.
If you ask the experts, 15-minute sauna sessions, 3 times per week should help you see beneficial sleep results over the long term.
Infrared saunas and sleep
Infrared saunas have almost no humidity but tend to produce the same results as a traditional dry sauna, using lower temperatures.
An infrared sauna heats by penetrating your skin the way the sun’s rays penetrate a rock, using electromagnetic radiation that is part of the natural light spectrum. This radiant heat is safe, and more tolerable to some, as the air around you doesn’t heat.
Temperatures in an infrared sauna generally reach between 110° and 130°F. Infrared saunas may produce greater health benefits than other types of saunas. This is related to the way the heat penetrates that skin, producing additional benefits than the ambient heat of a traditional sauna.
The relaxation, endorphin release, and sleep-inducing benefits of the body working to cool the body after heating (with lower temperatures) make infrared saunas a great choice for better sleep.
You may want to start out slow, with sessions of about 5-10 minutes, working up to 30 minutes 3 or 4 times per week.
Sauna blankets and sleep
Sauna blankets are a newer technology that makes enjoying the benefits of an infrared sauna accessible to almost everyone. They are generally portable, easy to store, clean, and use.
Although the far Infrared technology is the same in both an infrared sauna and a sauna blanket, some may prefer the option of using the blanket. Not only can you keep your head (and potentially your hands) outside of the sauna blanket, but their price makes them easy to use in the privacy of your own home. This lends itself to a relaxing experience that can help promote sleep.
The optimal temperature and recommended number of sessions per week are the same for a sauna blanket and an infrared sauna. The health benefits are generally thought to be the same, as well.
It is not recommended to sleep in a sauna blanket, and most have automatic shut-off timers. While some users find the cozy sleeping bag feel of the blanket, others may feel it’s constrictive.
Steam rooms and sleep
Steam rooms still use heat to create relaxation, relief from muscle tension, and lower blood pressure, but they do so in 100% humidity. The moist environment can increase the instance of bacteria growth, so routine cleaning is imperative.
The average temperature in a steam room is between 110° and 120°F, yet many people experience the heat as feeling hotter than a dry sauna. The steam room provides the same relaxation benefits as other sauna options, with the added benefits of loosening congestion and opening pores.
If your sole purpose is to promote sleep, the wet heat of a steam room will still raise your body’s temperature and raise your heart rate, offering the benefits of deep relaxation.
A few 10-15 minute sessions per week in a steam room should help promote long-lasting stress relief and reduce muscle tension and joint stiffness.
In summary, all forms of heat therapy discussed in this article have the potential to promote better sleep quality. The heart, veins, muscles, skin, and brain are activated by making the body work harder to cool itself. These processes release crucial hormones and chemicals that regulate sleep cycles, create feelings of calm, and relieve pain. All of which can interfere with sleep.
If you follow the recommended session times and complete your session early enough to allow cool down time for your body, you can bet you’ll be sleeping better in no time.