How the Benefits of Sauna Can Improve Mood & Mental Health
Have you ever wondered what impact your mood can have on your health?
Each mood type — whether that be happy, angry, sad, or a mix — elicits different feelings and effects on the body. With anger, for example, you can feel the emotion from the inside out. Your cheeks may feel like they’ve caught on fire and your heart is going to pound right out of our chest. Granted, all of us get angry from time to time — when the kids won’t stop screaming in the backseat or the dog pees in the house for the millionth time. You know the drill. There’s that feeling that starts welling up where we feel like we might just burst at any moment. And while bouts of anger are just a part of being human, chronic anger can have adverse effects on the body such as high blood pressure, heart problems, and digestive issues.
On the opposite spectrum, if you feel sad or depressed, these perpetual negative thoughts and attitudes can create chronic stress, disturbing the body’s hormonal imbalance, depleting the brain’s reserves of “happy chemicals,” and draining the immune system.
Suffice it to say, your mood and mental state are both vitally important to your health and well-being, and there are a lot of ways you can naturally support both —one being as simple as spending time in the heat.
Mental health benefits of using a sauna
Today, nearly 1 in 5 Americans struggle with a mental health issue, including various types of mood disorders (depressive, manic, and bipolar.) And it’s estimated that 21.4% of adults will experience a mood disorder at some point in their lifetime.
As a natural remedy, saunas are used by many to strengthen mentality. Sauna's hot environment triggers the brain to produce more euphoric hormones, making us feel relaxed, happy, and at peace.
Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, an American psychiatrist at the University of Columbia, completed two studies where he had people with major depression sit in an infrared sauna. In his first study, the participants had just one infrared sauna treatment, and it reduced their symptoms by about 50%. In his follow-up study, he found that a single session caused a quick and powerful antidepressant effect, and to his surprise, the benefits continued for six weeks. He concluded that whole-body hyperthermia holds promise as a safe, rapid-acting, antidepressant treatment with a prolonged therapeutic benefit.
Understanding how our moods work, on a biological level, is highly complex, but we’ll try to break it down as simply as we can.
Basically, our brains have intricate neurological circuits that affect and balance our moods. And these circuits can be affected by certain stimuli. For example, when we’re stressed, high cortisol levels — our primary stress hormone — can affect the brain, making us lean towards behavior that’s more reactive or aggressive.
Sauna has been proven beneficial in reducing cortisol levels which aids in balancing mood and stress. According to a study, using a sauna five to 15 times per month was directly associated with higher mental well-being scores compared to those who used the sauna less frequently.
We’ll let the experts take it from here. To understand more about these processes on a more in-depth, scientific level and to learn more about sauna’s role in it all, we recommend checking out this podcast by Andrew Huberman, neuroscientist and tenured associate professor of neurobiology at Stanford.
How to get the most out of a sauna for your mental health
As a rule of thumb, we recommend staying in a traditional sauna for 15 minutes — the sweet spot for your body to feel its benefits.
Sauna sends richly oxygenated blood to the brain to improve cognitive functions. Besides mental health benefits and mood stabilization, regular sauna use reduces the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other forms of mental decay, potentially by reducing inflammation and the inflammation markers linked to these specific illnesses.
Sauna also allows for the time and space to quiet the mind and relax, helping to soothe anxiety and stabilize mood.
Types of sauna: Choosing the right experience
You can experience these mental health benefits from any type of sauna, so determining the one that’s right for you really comes down to personal preference. So whether you visit us at Sauna House or decide you want to install a sauna for home use, there are three types to choose from.
Traditional Finnish sauna
The biggest differentiator of a Finnish sauna is that there’s moisture involved. These saunas have the option to pour water on hot rocks which release a bit of steam and humidity into the air. A traditional sauna has a humidity level between 20-40%, but it’s still nowhere near the humidity in steam rooms which reaches close to 100%. And for a lot of people, that is intense!
Similar to a traditional Finnish sauna, a dry cedar sauna ranges from 185-200 degrees fahrenheit. The main difference is that you won’t see a bucket of water with a ladle to pour over the rocks, so the humidity level hovers around 20%.
Unlike a Finnish or dry cedar sauna, infrared saunas use light waves to create heat in the room and elevate your core temperature. Sounds a little sci-fi, right? Here’s how it works.
Light waves penetrate our body tissues, increasing body temperature and making you sweat buckets and buckets once it gets going.
Discover the benefits of sauna at Sauna House