How Long Should You Stay in the Sauna?

How Long Should You Stay in the Sauna?

Do you ever feel nervous about how long you should sit in the sauna? Do you think, “Am I doing this right?” You’re not alone – everyone wonders this at first. After all, you’re subjecting your body to an intense experience. When you're used to those climate controlled environments, it can be hard to settle into something outside of your comfort zone.

There are numerous benefits of using a sauna, and if your goal is to achieve those benefits, then there is a sweet spot for knowing how long to stay in a sauna. It’s a Goldilocks zone – too short and you likely won't get the sauna health benefits, too long and you risk overheating.

Sauna House’s Recommendations for How Long to Sit in a Sauna

One of the things you might notice when you visit Sauna House is the suggested Hot-Cold-Relax cycle on the wall:

This sauna cycle is modeled after traditional Finnish Sauna culture and is generally repeated 3 times [1]. Three rounds of sauna each at 15 minutes equals a total time of 45 minutes per session. Breaking up the sauna session with cooldowns, also known as contrast therapy, helps to extend the sauna session. Otherwise, it would be challenging to stay in for a consecutive 45 minutes. Contrast therapy also has additive health benefits. It can easily be a 2-hour session including breaks and rest.

But where did the Finns come up with this schedule? For two thousand years, they have enjoyed saunas for relaxation, socializing, warming up from cold weather, as well as for hygiene and health maintenance. Originally, there was likely no scientific basis for why the Finns enjoyed contrast therapy cycles – it probably just felt good to do it that way [1,2,3]!

Now science is starting to support certain durations in the sauna for specific health goals. By studying the practices that have been a cornerstone for centuries, researchers are finding potential solutions to modern-day health problems.

Optimal Duration for Sauna Health Benefits

The optimal sauna duration depends on the goals. There is a minimum effective dose, meaning if you don’t stay in long enough, you might not reap the benefits of using a sauna. People with serious health conditions should check with their doctor before starting any sauna regimen.

The Science Behind How Long to Stay in a Sauna

Neurobiologist Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. talks about sauna, cold plunge, and contrast therapy on his popular Huberman Lab Podcast. He enjoys the sauna and bathhouses 2-3 days a week, sometimes for 3-4 hours at a time. Podcast guests include sauna researchers Susanna Soeberg Ph.D., Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D., and others educating on the benefits of sauna and contrast therapy. He compiled research-based, “Deliberate Heat Exposure Protocols for Health & Performance” with 3 key takeaways/protocols below.

Benefits of Using a Sauna for General Health

This protocol can result in improved mood, stress management, and training the body’s cellular stress response pathways to tolerate heat [4,5].
> Temperature: 80-100 ℃; 176-212 ℉
> Time in sauna: 1 hour per week, split into sessions
> Frequency: 2-3 times per week

Benefits of Sitting in a Sauna for Cardiovascular Health

This protocol is based on research out of Finland. The lowest risk of cardiovascular disease mortality was seen among people who used the sauna four to seven times per week. They were 50% less likely to die of heart disease compared to those who used the sauna once a week. This study also showed that sauna duration matters, with people who spent more than 19 minutes each session having a 52% lower risk of sudden cardiac death compared to people who spent less than 11 minutes in the sauna session [6].Sauna lowers high blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, inflammation, and improves blood vessel function [5].
> Temperature: 80-100 ℃; 176-212 ℉
> Time in sauna: 5 to 20 minutes per session
> Frequency: 2 to 7 times per week

Sauna for Growth Hormone Release

This is an interesting protocol that may be too challenging for the beginner. Growth Hormone (GH) stimulates muscle growth, strengthens bones, repairs tissue, and boosts metabolism. As you age, GH declines [7,8].

> Temperature: 80-100 ℃; 176-212 ℉
> Time in sauna: multiple sessions of 30 minutes each with cool down periods – up to four 30-minute sessions split throughout one day
> Frequency: Once per week or less

Sauna Health Benefits for Other Conditions

There are many other health conditions helped by sauna including recovery after a workout, improved exercise performance, metabolic health, toxin excretion, pain relief, immune regulation, dementia prevention, improved skin health, and reduced risk of respiratory diseases such as asthma. The length of sauna for each of these conditions varies [5,8,9,10,11,12]. In general, Sauna House’s suggested Hot-Cold-Relax cycle a few times per week covers the bases since many of these studies were based on the Finnish sauna experience.

An Expert’s Personal Sauna Routine

Cell biologist Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D. is a sauna researcher and enthusiast and shared her sauna routine with MedCram. She preheats her sauna to about 186 degrees F while working out. Then she typically spends 20-30 minutes in the sauna after a workout, with 10-20% humidity. She aims for 2-5 times per week. She shared that she is heat-adapted and did not stay in as long when first starting out. Dr. Patrick chose this routine based on the science, including her research [8].

How Long is it Safe to Stay in the Sauna

The maximum time you should stay in the sauna depends on your hydration status, how heat-adapted you are, and your overall health in general. You’ll likely feel slight discomfort as your heart rate speeds up, but most people can push through and stay in. If you feel very uncomfortable, lightheaded, dizzy, or nauseous – you’ll want to get out, ideally before reaching this point.

Hormesis is a fun word for healthy cellular stress. Heat and cold are external stressors. You want to stress your cells enough to train them to become heat or cold-adapted [8]. But if you exhaust your cells by staying in the sauna for too long, you can actually age your cells, according to Dr. Soeberg.

Temperature impacts how long you can stay in the sauna. Traditional Finnish saunas can get up to over 200 ℉, which is quite toasty! Adding water to the heat element creates steam which increases the temperature and humidity. Infrared sauna duration generally tends to last longer because it’s a lower temperature, at around 45-55 ℃ (120-140 ℉).

How Long Should You Stay in a Sauna? The Choice is Yours.

Guidelines do exist, but at the end of the day, you do you. It’s not a one-size-fits-all all answer. How long you stay in the sauna depends on how heat-adapted you are and your preference. If after 10 minutes you feel relaxed and done with the sauna, no one can really argue with that. It’s a subjective experience.

This blog post was researched, edited and written by Dr. Christine Krall, Naturopathic Doctor (ND). Learn more about Dr. Krall and her bio here.

Ready to book your next sauna session, click here to schedule.

Citing our sources:

1. Kukkonen-Harjula K, Kauppinen K. Health effects and risks of sauna bathing. International journal of circumpolar health. 2006;65(3):195-205.
2. Peräsalo J. Traditional use of the sauna for hygiene and health in Finland. Annals of clinical research. 1988;20(4):220-223.
3. Valtakari P. The sauna and bathing in different countries. Annals of clinical research. 1988;20(4):230-235.
4. Podstawski R, Borysławski K, Pomianowski A, Krystkiewicz W, Żurek P. Endocrine Effects of Repeated Hot Thermal Stress and Cold Water Immersion in Young Adult Men. American journal of men's health. 2021;15(2):15579883211008339.
5. Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T, Kunutsor SK. Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clin Proc. 2018;93(8):1111-1121.
6. Laukkanen T, Khan H, Zaccardi F, Laukkanen JA. Association between sauna bathing and fatal cardiovascular and all-cause mortality events. JAMA internal medicine. 2015;175(4):542-548.
7. Leppäluoto J, Huttunen P, Hirvonen J, Väänänen A, Tuominen M, Vuori J. Endocrine effects of repeated sauna bathing. Acta physiologica Scandinavica. 1986;128(3):467-470.
8. Patrick RP, Johnson TL. Sauna use as a lifestyle practice to extend healthspan. Experimental gerontology. 2021;154:111509.
9. Scoon GS, Hopkins WG, Mayhew S, Cotter JD. Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners. Journal of science and medicine in sport. 2007;10(4):259-262.
10. Søberg S, Löfgren J, Philipsen FE, et al. Altered brown fat thermoregulation and enhanced cold-induced thermogenesis in young, healthy, winter-swimming men. Cell reports Medicine. 2021;2(10):100408.
11. Kerr K, Morse G, Graves D, Zuo F, Lipowicz A, Carpenter DO. A Detoxification Intervention for Gulf War Illness: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2019;16(21).

March 19, 2024
By: Dr Christine Krall