Sauna baths have been in use since ancient times, at least two thousand years. In most modern versions, saunas are small rooms with wooden interior that are heated to temperatures between 150 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Traditionally wood/charcoal was burned to provide heat, but modern saunas use a variety of heating methods, discussed below.
Most modern sauna rooms have temperature controls to increase or decrease the temperature, and some also have rocks that absorb and give off heat. They usually have a bucket and ladle to pour water on the rocks to create more steam in the room.
Whether you go to a sauna once a week or once a year, you should know that sauna bathing has various physical and mental health benefits. It helps relax muscles, reinvigorate the skin, and reduce stress. It has also been helpful in relieving minor pains. Furthermore, there have been many findings that suggest that sauna bathing dilates the blood vessels, increasing the blood circulation throughout the body. In fact, some studies have found significant increases in lifespan due to sauna use.
Sometimes people even sweat more in saunas than in a gym. However, most people don’t know how to use a sauna properly. To make the most of your sauna experience, you need to know how to prepare for a sauna bath and take some basic precautionary measures.
This article will be your complete guide on sauna baths. Read ahead to find out about the different types of saunas, how to use a sauna, and some precautions to take before using them.
Styles of Saunas
There are many different types of saunas. The two main basic classifications are Finnish and Turkish Saunas. The former one uses dry heat to raise the temperature, while Turkish saunas are famous because of more moisture.
Dry heat saunas have a bucket and ladle to pour water over rocks to create more dry heat, while saunas with more moisture are similar to steam rooms. The following are the main types of saunas categorized on the basis of their heating methods. Note that we break this down in more detail in our article on the various types of saunas.
Burning of wood to create heat in the sauna rooms is a traditional method. The dry heat has low moisture. Bucket and ladle are used to pour water on the rocks every few minutes to increase the moisture in the room and also to increase heat.
Many of these saunas are custom-built setups or barrel sauna kits.
This style of sauna is the most “classic” style of heating, and almost all studies on the health benefits of using a sauna have been done based on this style of sauna.
Electric Sauna Heating
Some saunas are built similar to a charcoal/wood-burning sauna, but use an electric heater to heat the sauna rocks. These heaters are usually pretty high-powered, and typically need special wiring and electrical work.
These saunas heat in a similar fashion to a wood-burning sauna, but are generally costlier to setup. Maintenance is lower, however.
Many new designs of saunas now use an electrical heater to raise the temperature in a sauna room. The high temperature in the room has low humidity. This method is typically similar to the traditional wood-burning method, but it’s not the same. Many don’t have rocks and make steam in alternate ways.
These saunas are generally classified as infrared saunas and come in a huge variety of formats. These formats may be full-sized sauna rooms, portable tents, sauna blankets, and more.
As there are no rocks to absorb and retain heat, infrared saunas usually heat up and cool down fairly quickly. And the heater typically runs the entire time you’re in the sauna.
This system is cheaper and easier to deal with than wood/charcoal saunas are, and is rapidly becoming the most popular choice among sauna enthusiasts who want a sauna but don’t care about the hassle and maintenance of charcoal/wood/rocks. Note that the temperature of these saunas is usually lower than other saunas, hitting between 125-140’F. That said, the perceived heat is pretty similar due to the way the infrared heat is absorbed into the body.
These Turkish style saunas are different from other types of saunas. They have high moisture and humidity because heat is created from the steam of boiling water.
It is not common to use these in a house. Though there are some portable steam saunas that use something similar to a rice cooker to provide a steam room in a tent-like space.
Benefits of Sauna Bathing
Saunas are commonly known for their soothing effect on a human’s body. While sweating has long been used as a therapy to treat various health conditions, sauna bathing is another similar way to gain various health benefits.
You can find all sorts of crazy claims about sauna use, backed by some weird study. Many of the studies are super preliminary and are based on mice, or a very small sample size, or whatever. But some do appear to be promising. Note that virtually all the studies are on traditional wood saunas.
Following are some of the most interesting benefits of sauna bathing:
Treats Skin Problems
The heat causes the skin pores to open up and expel the impurities out. A dry sauna dries the skin and is very helpful in treating the symptoms of psoriasis. However, people with atopic dermatitis might find that their condition worsens after a dry sauna bath.
Bathing in the sauna increases the body temperature and dilates the blood vessels, which ensure good circulation of blood. This relaxes the mind as well as the muscles. The relaxation from a sauna bath is very beneficial in reducing stress levels.
This may be one of the most important aspects of sauna use, and may be the source of where many of the other benefits spring.
The sauna bath increases blood circulation throughout the body, which helps in healing minor cuts or bruises. The relaxation from a sauna bath also releases endorphins in the body, which creates euphoria and eases pain.
Sauna also helps in muscle relaxation and relieves the pain of arthritis.
Many find that integrating visits to the sauna into their exercise regimen improves their recovery, calms them after a workout, and gets them going.
Lowers the Risk of Cardiovascular Problems
Frequent sauna baths appear to be quite helpful to cardiovascular patients. There is some evidence they lower the risk of heart attack and actually increase longevity. By ensuring proper and easy circulation of blood, sauna baths lower the blood pressure. This, in turn, lowers the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Helps with Asthma Problems
Sauna baths appear to be beneficial in improving some of the symptoms of asthma. The high heat might loosen phlegm, open airways and ease breathing. The lowered stress levels due to sauna baths also improve the symptoms of asthma.
Lowers the Risk of Dementia
Although there is no strong scientific research to back the idea that saunas lower the risk of dementia, some studies have found sauna use is associated with lower rates of dementia.
How to Use a Sauna
A sauna experience can be very relaxing, both mentally as well as physically. Most of us go to a sauna and relax, but we don’t know the dos and don’ts that we should abide by. A few basic mistakes can deprive us of the amazing benefits of a sauna bath. Here are some essential tips to use a sauna in the best way:
Step 1: Preparing for the Sauna
Planning and preparing before a sauna bath is the first step. Staying in high temperatures for a long time can exhaust the body; therefore, it is important that you are prepared well beforehand and are not hasty.
Cool Down and Hydrate the Body
Before stepping into a sauna, make sure that you have cooled down your body properly. Bathing in the sauna raises the body temperature; therefore, if you have exercised or done any physical activity that increases body temperature, its best to cool down before bathing in the sauna. A cool shower can be a help (see below!)
Sauna also causes excessive sweating, so drink lots of water to avoid dehydration or heat stroke due to dehydration. Steer clear of alcohol consumption before going to a sauna because it can prevent the body from cooling down.
Shower before the Sauna
It is recommended to take a shower before going to a sauna. This helps to rinse off any lotions or creams you might have applied earlier to avoid the clogging of your skin pores in high heat.
Dress Appropriately for the Sauna
Determining the proper clothing to wear in a sauna can be a little tricky. The attire varies from sauna to sauna, and you’ll have to do a little observation to see what’s appropriate. Mostly, people strip down and lie down on a towel in a sauna, but note the attire of the sauna. Some saunas prefer that bathers wear a towel.
Regardless of your preference, take a towel with you in a sauna to sit on. Make sure that your clothing is not too tight and the clothing and towels are clean.
Take a Partner
If you can, it can be helpful to take a partner with you to a sauna. The conversation and banter with a partner can keep you a bit more comfortable, and you will pay less attention to the fact that you’re sitting in a very hot room!
If you are not taking a partner, you may find some other visitors are interested in chatting. Saunas can be a great place to meet people.
Again, you need to read the room, and if you get the sense that someone is not interested in chatting, don’t push them and ruin their relaxing sauna experience.
Follow the Instructions
Before entering the sauna, make sure to read the instructions if they’re posted. Don’t assume that universal sauna rules apply to all saunas.
Step 2: Going into the Sauna
Once you have prepared, you are ready to step into the sauna. Let your body relax and do not be hasty. Spend your time patiently and detach yourself from all worries to make the most of your sauna experience.
Enter the Sauna Quickly
When you actually open the door to enter the sauna, you don’t want to linger with the door open. Every moment that the door is open, hot air is exiting the room. You want to get in and close the door as quickly as you can to ensure that the heat remains in the sauna, where it’s supposed to be!
Adjust the Temperature
Start off with a lower temperature and feel free to ask someone to lower the temperature or do it yourself. Adjust the temperature between the recommended range and let the body sweat.
Of course, is you’re in a public sauna, you’ll have less control over the temperature.
A traditional sauna bath consists of going through a set of rounds of heating and cooling. The first round is usually the dry round. Step inside a sauna and sit in the dry heat for about 10-15 minutes. You do not need to pour water on the stones at this point.
Cool Down and Second Round
After 15 minutes, step outside the sauna and let your body temperature cool down a bit. Drink some water and let the body come back to its normal temperature before going in for a second round. In the second round, pour water on the rocks to create more steam in the sauna and then sit back and relax.
You may want to add some herbs, eucalyptus, essential oils, etc. for fragrance depending on the sauna you’re in.
Exit the Sauna If You Do not Feel Alright
It is not okay to test your limits in a sauna. If you get a headache or start feeling dizzy, leave the sauna immediately.
Step 3: After a Sauna Bath
There are some things to do after the final heating round in the sauna.
Final Cool Down
Avoid going directly into the shower after stepping out of the sauna. Give your body time to cool down and come back to its normal temperature before stepping into the shower.
Rehydrate the Body
Like the preparation step, after stepping out of the sauna, rehydrate the body by drinking water properly. When you are inside the sauna, because of high temperatures and sweating, you lose a lot of water; therefore, rehydrating is necessary.
Sauna Safety Measures
There are certain safety measures that you should keep in mind when bathing in a sauna. It is recommended not to enter a sauna if you are on any medication unless you’ve spoken to your doctor.
Some medications, especially the ones with alcohol, don’t allow the body to cool down. This can lead to overheating of the body in the sauna.
Here are some other precautions you must take before bathing in a sauna:
- It is best to consult with your doctor before taking a bath if you have any medical condition or you are pregnant or planning to be.
- Don’t take a big meal before going to a sauna because a lot of food in the body raises the body temperature. Also, hydrate yourself properly before taking a sauna bath.
- It is recommended not to stay in the sauna for too long. Ideally, 10-15 minute per round is appropriate.
- Take off any metallic jewelry or clothing before a sauna bath because it can heat up and hurt you.
- If you feel sleepy or dizzy, leave the sauna immediately.
- Do not use the sauna if you are already sick.
Does using a sauna help with weight loss?
One of the many myths about sauna baths is that it helps in weight loss. While you might lose a small amount of weight in a sauna bath, this weight loss is not a result of fat loss.
This is merely because of fluid loss due to sweating. The lost weight is replaced after you eat or drink later.
What is the recommended temperature for a sauna?
The temperature in a sauna depends greatly on the preference of a bather and the type of sauna. However, the recommended temperature of most wood-burning saunas is between 150-200′ Fahrenheit. Infrared saunas run at a lower temperature, generally around 125-140′ F.
Which is better— Sauna or Steam Rooms?
Sauna and Steam Rooms function quite differently. Both are heated rooms that are used for relaxation. However, there are some key differences between the two. The biggest difference is that saunas create dry heat, while steam rooms create moist heat.
In terms of health benefits, they are fairly hard to compare at the moment. There is little research on this.
In terms of enjoyment, both are extremely enjoyable. Pick one, pick the other, pick both!
How long is it appropriate to stay inside the sauna?
The time duration to stay inside a sauna depends on the preference of the bather. It is recommended to stay in the sauna room for 10-15 minutes and relax in the heat. After this duration, step out of the sauna and cool down your body to its normal temperature.
Sauna bathing comprises of heating and cooling rounds to prevent the body from overheating. Do not stay in the sauna for too long and if you feel uncomfortable, immediately leave the sauna and let your body cool down.
Sauna bathing is a process that comprises of subsequent heating and cooling rounds. There are various health benefits of using a sauna; however, you need to use the sauna the right way and take all the precautionary measures to make the most of these benefits.
By following the above-mentioned steps as well as the instructions at the sauna, you can have a safe and stress-relieving sauna experience.