An infrared sauna is different from a traditional sauna in a few important ways. While typical saunas heat the air around you, infrared saunas use infrared rays (something the eye can't see) to penetrate into your skin and muscles, directly heating your body. According to Lauren Dal Farra, MD, cardiologist and CEO of PALM Health, that process can result in some impressive benefits.
"During an infrared sauna session, infrared light penetrates the skin, and the core body temperature increases. The body has to work hard to cool itself and maintain thermal regulation," says Dr. Dal Farra. "As a result, the body induces sweating, vasodilates arteries, and increases the heart rate and volume of blood pumped by the heart each minute. The effect is similar to that achieved by walking at a moderate pace." Additionally, several studies demonstrate that repeated infrared thermal therapy improves vascular endothelial function. "Regular use of an infrared sauna may provide many of the same cardiovascular conditioning benefits as exercise," she says.
Self-reported benefits include "increased relaxation, improved skin clarity and elasticity, decreased pain, and increased well-being from using the infrared sauna," says Dr. Dal Farra. (In my case, that was a major mood boost and significantly fewer headaches and migraines.) Neurologist Sita Kedia, MD, the chief medical officer at Palm Health, says at-home infrared saunas may also help you sleep better at night.
"People report that regular infrared sauna sessions help improve the quality and onset of sleep. Improved sleep may be attributed to multiple factors, including increased muscle relaxation, pain reduction, decreases in cortisol, and the cardiovascular benefits of increased blood flow and circulation," says Dr. Kedia. "We also know that routine cardiovascular exercise improves quantity and quality of sleep. Saunas simulate the changes seen with cardiovascular exercise, which may be one of the primary drivers for saunas to improve sleep in individuals. Interestingly, there are many products now commercially available to help with sleep, from infrared blankets and heating pads to sleeping bags and whole-body domes."
In order to reap the potential benefits of infrared saunas, all you need to do is dedicate a tiny fraction of your day. (I like to meditate, listen to a podcast, or watch TV while using mine.) "We observe that benefits begin at sessions of at least 15 minutes in length. Depending on your health condition, we recommend starting at 15 minutes and working up to 45-minute sessions," says Dr. Dal Farra. "If you're using the infrared sauna for cardiovascular and metabolic benefits, I recommend around four sessions per week, or 12 to 15 sessions over three weeks. The temperature of the infrared sauna is typically between 110°F to 130°F."
The best at-home infrared saunas for every budget
While sitting in an infrared sauna tent may look a little silly, it’s a great way to reap the benefits when you don’t have a ton of space. You can set it up anywhere you want, then fold it up after you’re finished. It’s also comfortable. Your head pops out of the top, and there are slots for your hands, allowing you to read or watch a TV show. Or, you can simply close your eyes, relax, and enjoy the feel-good heat.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from an infrared sauna blanket, but I quickly fell in love with this option from MiHIGH. Unlike other at-home infrared saunas, you can use it while lying down and set it up right in bed (aka it’s perfect for watching movies after a long day). Simply lay it out over your comforter, choose your heat level and session time, get inside, and let your body relax. In a way, using it felt similarly to using a weighted blanket; being wrapped up like a burrito is incredibly soothing. (Anxiety… who is she?) By the time I finished my session, I was dripping with sweat and more relaxed than I had been in a long time.
Full disclosure: Despite the brand name, this (considerably less expensive) sauna blanket is not silk. But the concept is similar, and it sure is a nice idea to slip into its warm embrace after a long day of work. Unfold it onto your bed, plug it in, and let your stress just melt away.
If you’re looking for a full-size sauna without the cost and space requirements, this is it. It’s easy to set up and you’re able to sit inside. Even though it’s completely portable, it still gets up to 140°F. It also comes with a foldable sauna chair that keeps you comfortable and relaxed during your session.
You might have heard about HigherDOSE—a luxe, private infrared sauna studio in New York City. Now, you’re able to take that experience home with you with the company’s infrared blanket. The latest version has layers of charcoal, crystals, and heat-balancing clay, as well as non-toxic fabrics.
If space isn’t an issue in your home, this two-person sauna gives you a lot of room to relax by yourself or with a friend. The sauna walls are double-paneled to help save energy—allowing it retain more heat and heat up faster—and it has carbon energy efficient heating panels that evenly distribute the heat. It’s also pretty to look at, as it’s made from reforested Canadian Hemlock wood.
This infrared sauna is pricey, but the ultra-luxe option is worth every penny. The Solo System has everything you could want in an at-home infrared sauna. While it takes up far less space than a traditional walk-in infrared sauna (and can easily be taken apart and stored), you still get the exact same experience… but better. All three parts—the upper dome, lower dome, and pad—heat up individually, allowing you to choose different temperatures for different areas. It also has a sustainable bamboo fiber exterior (which is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and naturally deodorizing), an ergonomic design, a comfy plush memory foam pad to lie on, and nine different heat settings.
When you’re lying inside the sauna—which feels like you’re in a spaceship, TBH—it’s easy to relax. Aside from the comfort of the heat surrounding your body, it also has built-in chromotherapy lighting. You can choose from multiple different colors, which can be incredibly therapeutic, helping your body calm on a deeper level. On days I’ve used it, I’ve been less anxious, stressed, and in a much better mood—even after a quick 20-minute session. As much as I’ve missed going to infrared saunas in person, nothing beats being able to do sweaty sessions at home whenever I want.
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